Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Vayechi, in which we read that “The days drew near for Israel to die” (Genesis 47:29). Jacob gives his sons and two of his grandsons (he just never learns to stop with that overt favoritism) blessings and requests that he be buried in the Cave of Machpelah with his parents and grandparents and with Leah.
The great gladiator-turned-esteemed-rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said of the beginning of this parasha, “The days of the righteous die, but they do not die. It does not say, ‘Israel drew near to die’ but that ‘the days of Israel drew near to die’” (Midrash Rabbah). We learn from the that the spirit of the righteous and their good deeds linger, even after their earthly days have passed by.
As we approach the new year, and the days of 2017 draw near to closing, what will linger and come into 2018 with us, and what will pass by? What deeds of righteousness have we accomplished in this year, and what earthly mistakes have we made? Of course, as Jews, our new year and our season of repentance and renewal happened already just a few months ago. But as modern Westerners, we live so much of our lives by the Gregorian calendar, and it’s worth taking stock of our lives and actions at any opportune moment. I’m not big on “New Years Resolutions” per se, but as we cross the threshold of one year to the next, let us take the time to reflect on our choices and deeds.
If 2017 were our last year on Earth, would Reish Lakish’s commentary apply to us? If not, what can we commit to for 2018 that it may be true in a year’s time? What can we accomplish as ordinary people to earn the title of “righteous”, to know that our legacy will outlive us and that our name and deeds will live on forever? Of course, there is no one right answer. Each of us must make our own choices. Each of us must decide what is possible for our personal circumstances, what is right for our personal morals, what makes the most sense for our personal lives. For example, I personally would not choose to show the overt favoritism that righteous Jacob shows for Rachel, Joseph, and Joseph’s sons right up until the day he dies, leaving his other children to still fear Joseph’s potential narcissism and wrath once their father is gone. But Jacob made that choice and was still considered righteous, and Joseph did let go of his narcissism and wrath, and all the children of Jacob managed to live out their days in Goshen in relative peace and family harmony.
So it worked out alright for that family. You need to decide for yourself what will work out best for yours. Transitions in life, in year cycles, moments of reflection, are key opportunities to reassess and make these decisions anew. As the days of 2017 draw near to their end, may you be blessed with righteousness and family harmony. Amen and Happy New Year.