Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 90

December 17, 2021 (13 Tevet 5782)


Dear Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you well and in good health. We look forward to you joining us for our hybrid services this Shabbat morning at 10:30 am, which will take place in our sanctuary and over our regular Zoom prayer link.

This Shabbat, we conclude the first book of the Torah, Sefer Bereshit. The Parasha represents a major transition in the narrative of the Bible, as our Genesis text concludes the saga of the family of Avraham by offering an account of the death of Yaakov.

The moving scene, which finds Jacob’s sons gathered around his deathbed, is the subject of one of my favorite Midrashim (biblical interpretations). In Devarim Rabbah 2:35, our Sages offer a homiletical explanation for the second line of the Shema: “Baruch Shem Kavod, Malchuto, L’olam Va-ed.” They propose the following:

Jacob is dying and, in his last moments, he fears that his sons, now well ensconced in Egyptian life, will not remain true to the monotheism of Judaism. They attempt to reassure him by loudly proclaiming, “Shema, Yisrael, Adonai, Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.”

The translation in this scenario is, “Listen, Israel,” (one of Jacob’s two names), “Adonai is our God,” (also) and we believe in “The one God.” Thus, they are signifying that they accept monotheism and will carry forward the religion of their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. A relieved Jacob responds, in the small voice of a 147-year-old on his deathbed, “Blessed is Adonai’s glorious majesty forever and ever.” According to the rabbis, this is the reason we say the first line of the Shema loudly (with the strength of 12 sons) and the second line softly (in the manner of the dying, but satisfied Jacob).

While this Midrash is compelling and it explains a strange liturgical practice, on a literal level, I also find this section of the Parsha to be incredibly powerful.

Over the last two years of the pandemic, so many folks have been denied the ability to be with their loved ones during life’s final moments. The idea that Yaakov is surrounded by his entire family and that they were able to assure him that they would continue his tradition is heart-warming.

In addition, this Parasha is called Vayechi, which means LIFE. The choice of this title forces us to focus on the positive attitude of Judaism, which celebrates life in all its stages and all its moments.

May this Shabbat remind us of the sanctity of each moment so that we can share our gifts and love with all in our family, our congregation, and our community.

L’Chayim and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD.
201 562 5277

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