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    Jacob lived – Vayyechi

    Jacob on his deathbed, by Adam van Noort, c. 17th century

    Jacob on his deathbed, by Adam van Noort, c. 17th century

    The name of the sidra is “Jacob lived”, yet the subject matter is partly Jacob’s death.

    There is a similar usage with the sidra Chayyei Sarah, “The Life of Sarah”, which also deals largely with death.

    Maybe the symbolism is that the two extremes, birth and death, are all that we know about some people.

    This is certainly the implication when we find literary references to deceased people. The practice is to say “born 19…, died 20…”. The really interesting thing is what happened between the two dates.

    If all one can say is that someone was born and died, that tells us nothing about who they really were, their lives, their loves, their failures, their successes.

    Of course no such problem arises with Jacob, or with Sarah for that matter. Between their birth and death so much happened. Some things were happy. Some were sad. In both cases there is even something to note in the manner of their death.

    As usual, ma’asei avot siman l’banim, “the deeds of ancestors have a message for their children”, and we need to ask ourselves what we have done between birth and death.

    We actually have an advantage. Being still alive, we can use whatever time we have left to begin making more of ourselves and our opportunities.

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