Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayechi

This week, Torah depicts the end of Jacob’s life. Having blessed his children (and grandchildren), it is time for him to go “lie with his forefathers.” The text emphasizes that he lived in Egypt for 17 years.

According to the commentary of the Ba’al Haturim (14th century), “These seventeen years were the best years of his life—years of prosperity, goodness and peace; his other 130 years were filled with toil and pain.”

There is much to be said for the truth of this commentary. Jacob’s early years were spent deceiving his brother Esau. His father-in-law cheated him out of the daughter he worked to marry (Rachel) and replaced her with Leah. Over the years, his four wives gave him 12 sons and at least one daughter – all of whom did some horrible things to their communities and to each other. His favored wife (Rachel) died young. His children convinced him that the favored son (Joseph) was dead. The list goes on. It is not until he learns that Joseph is still alive that life returns to him. Now, we never get to read what he says to his sons about having lied to him years ago, or how they fare as a family moving forward. To the point, the only grandchildren with whom the text depicts him interacting are Joseph’s in Egypt. These probably were the best years of his life. From the depths, Jacob found redemption.

The late former New York Mets Pitcher died way too young. Succumbing to cancer, he passed from this world at 60. His son, Country Music star Tim McGraw, memorialized his dad’s last years in the song, “Live Like You Were Dying.” Tim taught us that it was not until his dad fully digested his diagnosis that he decided to live, love, and experience blessings with a vengeance: almost a new lease on life.

I know many of us who were widowed and/or divorced who turned their trauma into blessing. There are those who might even describe the trauma they experienced as their blessing. Certainly, after overcoming addictions, most will say that hitting rock bottom saved their lives. Many survived the Shoah to lead fruitful and loving lives. From the depths people find redemption.

In the midst of despair, people feel hopeless. They struggle to believe that there is a return from the abyss. At the same time, we speak of ourselves as prisoners of hope. We celebrate the stories of those who “made it,” somehow thinking that the opportunity exists for everyone … else. I also know too many who never walked the path of return, who never found a way out of the darkness. The tragedy(ies) that caused their trauma never found it/their way into perspective. These are the times when our faith is most deeply challenged, and where our communal family faith is put to its greatest test.

“Kol Yisrael aravim zeh bazeh – All people of faith are responsible for each other.” If we do not take care of each other, who will? People will grow in different ways and at differing speeds. It becomes our job to love them through and at whatever pace. Along the way, we get to help demonstrate the power of hope and the value of living. In every case, we must first remember to celebrate our own lives. The baggage of our trauma is never the sum of who we are – only the representation of some of our broken pieces. Every day we are … we have the chance to be. As Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us, “Just to live is holy. Just to be is a blessing.”

Shabbat Shalom.