We arrive, this Shabbat, at Portion “Vayechi” and with it, the conclusion of the book od Genesis. Jacob, who is old, requests that he be buried back in Canaan. We see the foundation of the blessing of children which so many repeat around the Shabbat dinner table and at festivals such as the seder. Jacob blesses his children, in what scholars often see as the proof text for what we call the “Ethical Will”.
In a Torah commentary by Rabbi Adam Greenwald of the American Jewish University of Los Angeles. Greenwald calls attention to an interesting confluence of stories. The death bed blessings of Jacob and the scene in Haftorah of David, as his life ends. Greenwald comments that, despite the titles of Patriarch and King, Jacob and David, as their life ends, focus not on accomplishments in the material world, but become human beings. Granted, their final instructions were different in many ways, but both, in their own way, acknowledged their mortality; Jacob concerned with his family and David giving final instructions to Solomon.
The value of these scenes, especially the one from our portion of the week, is the value of legacy and blessing. This came up again this past weekend during a series of teachings at a congregation. One of the discussions, not surprisingly, went to the issue of our aging and when so many people seem to switch from a need to acquire material things to a need to be concerned with their own legacy; not material, but spiritual.There seems, to me, to be moments for so many Boomers when we listen to the metaphorical clock and know that time is moving too fast. That moment of our awareness and acceptance of our own mortality triggers, it seems, a shift for many of an internal focus. We become more aware of a need to create a legacy of meaning so that those who come after us will be able to keep us in their hearts and souls with a sense of sacred work. Maybe it is seeing the world through our grandchildren, maybe it is a reality sparked by the loss of friends and family. Whatever the trigger, something in us changes and we recalibrate our internal gyroscope. No, this does not happen to everyone. Part of it is based on our own longevity and the always present randomness of existence. However, this “give back” syndrome is real. I think it is based, in many ways, on the death scenarios of Jacob, who knew his days were drawing to an end and wishes to leave behind some legacy greater than his accomplishments in the world; a legacy of the soul.
Not a bad goal for all of us to consider.
And as we say at the end of a book of Torah: “chazak, chazak, 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.