Vayechi – Jacob lived, we read these words as Jacob prepares for his death. Similarly, we read earlier in Bereshit, Chaye Sarah, the life of Sarah, and we then immediately read of her death. Our cemeteries are often called a Beit Chayim – a House of Life. What is going on here?
There is a deep wisdom in these words and references I believe. They both refer to the life beyond death – whether in afterlife or memory – and also to deep custom within our Judaism (until very recently), that there was an ongoing relationship between the living and the dead. Dead was never merely dead.
With Vayechi we also leave the Abrahamic story – this family lineage that has preoccupied so much of this first Book in Torah ends with the deaths of Jacob and then of Joseph in Egypt. Jacob speaks to each of his sons from his deathbed. These words are the origin of what we now call ethical wills: words of wisdom, and of teachings meant to bridge generations. As Jacob spoke to his sons and grandsons, as we set down the ethics and teachings we hold important, we provide our own children and grandchildren words to live by.
Not only do we read of Jacob being returned to the land of his ancestors, to the burial site he had purchased, we read of customs we utilize to this day. He was eulogized, mourners sat for shiva, seven days, and he was buried in the cave of Machpelah. Joseph too was promised that his bones will be returned to the land of his ancestors. Place of burial mattered deeply to our ancestors, and burial place continued to matter for the millennia that followed this story – and still matters today.
Wishing everyone long life as we enter yet another new year! Shana tova,