D’VAR TORAH – VAYHI by Paula Globerman, TBO,
10 Tebet 5774 – December 13, 2013
The interesting and challenging thing about being 50-something is that things that seem so far away – over there – are here right now. Right now. You start to go to funerals regularly and you read obituaries. I know you do. Who are these people? How old are they? What is their story? Inquiring minds want to know.
Things like wills, estate planning, cessation planning, powers of attorney, burial plots, end of life goals all become very real. We watch parents, grandparents and our friends face difficult challenges. We start planning for children, grandchildren, gifts, bequests, donations and blessings.
If you had the chance to talk honestly and openly before you die with those that matter most, what would you say? Our sages say, that everything depends upon the one that gives the blessing and the one who receives it.
In this parsha called Vayichi – And He Lived – we are at the end of Genesis. Jacob dies after blessing first his grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe, then his son Joseph and then his brothers. At the end of the chapter Joseph also dies. So a chapter about dying is called ‘He Lived’ – Vayichi. There is a tradition here. In the chapter where Sarah dies, the parsha is called Chayai Sarah – the Life of Sarah. So why in chapters about dying are the titles not reflective of this key point?
The rabbis say, this is because the legacy of the matriarchs and patriarchs live on through the generations. We invoke their names in our daily prayers – the avot and emahot prayer in the Tefilah portion of the service. They live in our hearts, in our traditions and in our prayers and in this way, they defeat death. They live.
It is not their death that is important, but their lives and legacies: who they were, what they stood for, their trials and tribulations, their strengths and limitations, great deed and not-so-great deeds. Their stories are alive now. They are our foundation.
The question posed by Rabbi Pollack is: will you be a blessing and what kind of blessing are you? Jacob blesses his sons before he dies.
Rabbi Glazer says:
Jacob offered individual blessings first to inspire his sons towards those mitzvoth that were synonymous with their personalities. Then he bestowed upon them comprehensive blessings to engender enthusiasm for all mitzvoth and to borrow and sustain each other as brothers and ultimately as a people allowing them to thrive even outside their comfort zone.
Am Israel in all its strength.
Jacob also blesses his sons with his own blessings; the ones passed to him from his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham – blessings passed down through the generations. On Friday nights, in many households, we bless our children. For boys we say ‘may you be like Ephraim and Menashe’ and for girls we say ‘may you be like our matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel.’ Many families add their own personal words to these blessings linking the generations.
Blessing our children and counting our own blessing is not such an easy thing to do. Life is messy. Relationships are complicated. Marriages are challenging. Siblings can be annoying and caring for aging parents can be difficult. Children are awesome and sometimes just awful (except mine). Joy, hope, peace, contentment, health, wealth, happiness are all common themes of a blessing. What do you hope for? What do you wish for? What is possible?
The sages say Jacob knew and could tell the future. He knew what was coming and how things would unfold. He gathered his sons to tell them what would be but at that moment he could not; the gift was gone. So he blessed them. Each had a blessing, but had to let the future unfold.
If you knew the future, would you tell? Would you really want to know? In the world of science and medicine, we have many predictive markers for health and illness. We know more about risk factors and DNA testing has changed the world. We now can know things we never dreamed we could. There are genes for breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s Chorea to name just a few. In my world of the neonatal ICU, ultrasound amniocentesis, echocardiograms, MRI and CT scans have changed what we
know and what we do. Advances in medicine, surgery and nursing that were pipe dreams when I started my career, 34 years ago, are common place now almost routine. Even with all these wonders of modern medicine, most parents, almost all, ask me, “what will be?”. What does the future hold for their precious son or daughter? Sometimes we know and sometimes we do not. Most times, it is a process, a becoming, an unfolding over time. And sometimes, a great miracle happens; the universe realigns and the unexpected happens. The great mystery trumps the science. Every day, children, with their own unique capabilities, and those of the people around them who love them, care about them, pray for them, hope and cherish them survive and are a blessing. What will be will be. Life may be short. They
inspire us; make us laugh (and we do laugh in the ICU). They bring out the best in those who love them and care for them. Whether in the arms of parents or grandparents, or in incubators connected to tubes and wires, they take us out of our comfort zone, out of the safety zone and ask us to take a flying leap of faith. A blessing for a nurse goes something like this- may you have a clear head, sure hands and a warm heart. A blessing for a fragile baby is more complicated.
Blessings come in all shapes and sizes. Blessings transcend time as they pass from one generation to the next, linking us to those who came before and giving us a foundation on which to build a future. In closing and with thanks I am borrowing from Rabbi Micah Lapidus’ poem Be a Blessing
Be a Blessing
All the rest is commentary.
You could go and study it or you could,
Be a blessing.
Wherever you’re from, wherever you’re going,
The voices you hear, the drive that propels you,
The people you collect, the flock you shepherd,
When you get there, when you build your home,
When you greet your neighbor, when you greet your friend,
be a blessing.
When you raise your children, when faced with impossible demands,
when being in the moment, when making plans of plans,
be a blessing.
When you doubt, when you tire
When you stray, when you forget
When you return, when you recall
When you respond, when you restore
when you live
be a blessing
the rest is truly commentary.