The world has been turned on its ear. Each and every single day brings about new challenges, new frustrations and fresh disappointments. Businesses are suffering, supply chains are broken and we are beginning once again to encounter bare shelves. We are emotionally drained, constantly trying to swim against the current. No matter how hard we try, how much we hope, it is near impossible to gain any traction. The desire to curl up and hide from the world is strong. But that is not the Jewish way. We are not a people who hide out and contemplate the world, we live in it, embrace it and try to make it a better place. Do you cynically site back and enumerate the ways in which the pandemic, the government, the system have ruined it all? Or, do you roll up your sleeves, shift focus and see how you can make a difference? There is always a choice. One path is destructive, the other can lead to immortality.
This week we read the closing parasha of Sefer Bereshit, parshat “Vayechi”. Jacob and his children are living well in Egypt. Realizing his end is near, our patriarch sets about putting his affairs in order. He gathers his family to give each and every one of them his final blessings. Why does a parasha that tells of the death of Yacov Avinu begin with the word “vayechi”, “and he lived”? The Talmud teaches that it is because “Yacov Avinu lo met”, “Jacob our Patriarch never died” (Ta’anit 5a-b).
Jacob had a hard life. From his strained relationship with his brother Esav to his years of indenture with Lavan, and everything in between, Jacob never seemed to gain any traction in life. Yet despite these challenges, he managed to impact many people within and beyond his family. Despite all that was going on around him, he never lost his focus, never lost sight of his role in embodying and transmitting the teachings of his father and grandfather. In the end, Jacob influenced so many people who internalized his values and passed them on through the generations that he is considered still alive (Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis).
We are the people of Israel. We are named for him and we are his legacy. It is our responsibility and duty to uphold this legacy, to actively seek out ways to make the world a better place through our actions and by influencing others. “We can attain our own immortality by touching the hearts and moulding the minds of as many people as possible, just as Jacob our forefather did” (Mirvis). As a people, as a nation, we have a long history of difficulties and challenges, yet we survived them all by staying the course and keeping our eye on what counts the most.
As we close Sefer Bereshit this week and proclaim “Chazak chazak v’nitchazak”, “Be strong, be strong, and we will all be strengthened”, let us draw strength from our past and look to our future with hope and determination.
Dr. Laura Segall
Head of School