The last days of December 2020 are within sight, and January 1st 2021 (otherwise known as 17 Tevet, 5781) is upon us. And as we look forward to new beginnings we also will be closing the book of Genesis with Parashah Vayechi – “And (Jacob) lived”… As we saw earlier in Chayei Sarah – the life of Sarah, the word ‘CHAYEI’ really was telling a ‘coded’ message about her death. Here, this week, we read of the death of Yaakov. Yaakov calls Joseph to his bedside and gives him instructions for his bones to be buried in his tomb of his ancestors (Machpelah). “Please do not bury me in Egypt,” he instructs Joseph. And then Jacob summons his sons, one by one, and he gives each of them his final words to them. And then he died. Some of our burial customs to this day are mentioned – a eulogy is given, a mourning period of seven days – shiva is mentioned. And his sons did exactly as he had asked of them – he was buried in the Cave of Machpelah.
And then at the very end of this parashah we read of the death of Joseph. He too was placed in a coffin in Egypt, and he too asked for his bones to also be brought up to rest with the bones of his family.
A parashah named for life is then preoccupied with dying and death burial, embalming and mourning – and return. Last week we learned of God’s promise to be with Yaakov/Yisroel in his/our ascending and his/our descending and all space/time between. In life and in death, we keep getting the same message: God’s presence is always with us.
2020 has been challenging, but Covid, ironically, has opened many doors for us and for virtually all congregations. Arlette joined us from New York (glad you are home now!), Steven comes to classes and services from Campbell River, George comes to Torah study from Quebec City! People who have difficulty navigating physical access – be it no longer driving at night, or being immune-compromised, can safely attend all services we provide. Our challenge will be to maintain our now-open doors once we navigate return to in-person services. We are beginning conversations about best practices and having as a priority continued access – that open and welcoming message we so value. How will we return?