Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
Dec 18, 2021
At times the Torah speaks in contradictions. Hayyei Sarah, the life of Sarah, opened with the death of Sarah. This final parsha of Bereshit, Vayechi, and he (Jacob) lived, leads to the death of Jacob and the death of Joseph. Father and son have significant time with their families, ending with blessings and promises, personal blessings for each of their children and a request that they be buried not in Egypt, but in their homeland, Israel.
Looking online, I found hundreds of versions of Bereshit 48:16. Many are variations of the melody I just sang, others are different. Many are used as lullabies. When our girls were younger, we sang to them every night, leading into Shema. Now that they are older, bedtime is a bit more complicated!
When we sing to our children, to our grandchildren, to our loved ones, when we bless our children, what are we trying to do?
On one level, we are trying to create memories, moments of connection. We know that music can effect us in ways that words alone cannot. When we hear a familiar melody, we are often transported in time to a specific memory.
In one of our old favorites, we hear Billy Joel sing:
He says, "Son can you play me a memory?
I'm not really sure how it goes
But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man's clothes"
Have you ever misheard or mis-sung that as melody rather than memory? The two are so intertwined. When I was younger I would often play music while reading. To this day, certain songs are associated with certain childhood books.
In this parsha, as Joseph and Jacob bless their children, they are reminding them of their values. They are trying to impart, one more time, the lessons that they feel are most vital, most life-affirming, most needed to ensure that their Jewish legacy is secure. The lessons they teach are ones that are as relevant today as they were millenia ago.
As we close the book on Bereshit, as we close the book on our stories of parents and children, on broken and whole relationships, on complicated family dynamics, let us remember their lessons. All that our ancestors wanted was for us to be together, to trust in God, to find hope in a complicated world, to love one another, to find joy in the mitzvot. The context of our lives may have changed. Few of us are shepherds or rulers of Egypt, yet the values remain.
As we look to the next generations, we know that the world can change rapidly. More information and technology will continue to change what the next generations “know”, yet ultimately, we MUST teach, share, love, hope, and pray together. We must sing together. We must build the memories, the experiences, byachad, together that will ensure דור לדור, from generation to generation that we continue to teach our holy traditions, that we lift one another up and we live a life of mitzvot.