A dictionary definition of legacy says that it is a “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past”. In this week’s portion, the final one in Genesis, we see the foundation for our concept of legacy. We meet the deaths of Jacob and Joseph, and the intricate and, at times complex blessing of children by Jacob.
We also see the repetition of a major theme in Genesis with the switched hand blessing by Jacob of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Again, the younger will emerge dominant over the older. The repetition of transgenerational family patterns is one of the key elements of Genesis and serves as a textbook on family dynamics. It is this issue of legacy that becomes a major issue for us this week. It is especially meaningful to us as we get older and begin to take stock of our own life and contemplate what our own legacy may be.
The question is what of us do we wish those we love and care for to take with them in their life? This is the power of memory. Yes, material things are very important, if you have the blessing of them. But more than the material is the spiritual. That is why the tradition emphasizes the aspect of our good name as a key attribute of our own legacy. How we are remembered is really our life beyond death. The death bed blessings of Jacob (chapter 49) form the textual foundation for what we call the Ethical Will, a practice that has been embraced by an increasing number of people. This is not the material legacies (homes, cars, money etc), but the blessings of how to live one’s life in a meaningful way. It is the gift we give future generations on how to deal with the challenges and changes we all experience. When you study the portion this Shabbat, let me suggest that when you get to 50:23, let that idea of “carrying the bones” settle over you. That is another way of looking at our own legacy. What shall our children and grandchildren, friends and associates carry of us into their lives?
One other idea to contemplate as well. Let me suggest that this idea of legacy is not just for individuals. It reflects on groups and, yes, even nations. This is not an easy time for the Jewish world. How many of us have struggled with what the legacy of Israel may be given the war? We do not know. But it is a question worth considering as we conclude this magnificent book of Genesis. Hazak, hazak, v’nitchazek
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.