Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26 )
GOOD MORNING! I have always loved the phrase "Death with Dignity." It conjures for me an image of the Angel of Death dressed in a tuxedo with a white tie driving up to the door in a Cadillac limousine. He rolls out the red carpet and escorts the individual down the isle to be chauffeured to the next world -- with a string quartet playing "Pomp and Circumstance." But, that's not the meaning intended by the phrase...
Rather, the phrase "Death with Dignity" conveys the right to choose one's departure at a time one determines -- if there is too much suffering, no quality of life, one is a burden on family and friends. In other words, to choose the time of one's suicide when life no longer meets one's criteria of what life should be.
What does it mean to die with dignity?
My friend, Brent (Boruch) Brown had ALS -- Lou Gehrig disease. He chose to embrace life as his body slowly became paralyzed limb by limb. From walking with a cane to a wheel chair to bed ridden ... from clearly speaking to speaking with difficulty, to signaling with his eye lids... Brent chose to accept and bear the pain. He chose to appreciate that every moment in life is precious. In doing so, his courage inspired and uplifted all who knew him -- family, friends, hospital staff. Brent gave life an elevated, noble quality. He certainly died with dignity.
If life is only about physical pleasure, productivity, and looking good, then "death with dignity" is an effective suicide exit plan.
Yet, what if life is more than that? Did the Almighty create this world so we can tally how many steaks enjoyed and how many adventures taken? Does he who dies with the most toys really win?
Nobody wants pain, but should pain be the determining factor in the quality of life? Rather, isn't pain the price we pay for growth and accomplishment -- especially those with greatest meaning: childbirth, raising a family, helping others, strengthening the community, developing courage and character, purifying the soul.
Isn't life more than just seeking comfort, followed by a comfortable exit?
What if the Almighty created us for a higher purpose? What if He instilled into every human being a soul -- and our challenge in life is to perfect that soul through working on our character and overcoming challenges?
What if God has a tailored-made plan for each of us -- providing challenges in order to grow and come close to Him? What if there is meaning and purpose to the way our life ends as well? Are we not doing our soul -- and the souls of our loved ones -- a disservice by shortening God's plan for our demise?
When people ask, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" they typically define "bad" as that which involves challenge, pain and difficulty.
On the contrary, life's challenges and difficulties are what enable us to grow. Accepting our challenges and facing them with responsibility, courage, and sincere effort -- that is what gives life dignity.
Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz, a Harvard-trained lawyer and expert regarding Jewish Ethics, wrote: "Because all human beings are formed in the image of the Divine, all life is regarded as being of infinite value regardless of its duration or quality. As all mathematicians realize, infinity cannot be halved. If and when some human life is deemed to be less valuable than others, then life as a whole has gone from being infinite to being relative and the lives of us have become cheapened and debased."
Life is not always easy. And the end is often even more challenging. Yet, only by embracing every moment of life can we truly merit "death with dignity."
Vayechi, Genesis 47:28 - 50:26
The parasha, Torah portion, opens with Jacob on his deathbed 17 years after arriving in Egypt. Jacob blesses Joseph's two sons, Manasseh (Menashe) and Ephraim (to this day it is a tradition to bless our sons every Shabbat evening with the blessing, "May the Almighty make you like Ephraim and Manasseh" -- they grew up in the Diaspora amongst foreign influences and still remained devoted to the Torah. The Shabbat evening blessing for girls is "to be like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.") He then individually blesses each of his sons. The blessings are prophetic and give reproof, where necessary.
A large retinue from Pharaoh's court accompanies the family to Hebron to bury Jacob in the Ma'arat Hamachpela, the burial cave purchased by Abraham. The Torah portion ends with the death of Joseph and his binding the Israelites to bring his remains with them for burial when they are redeemed from slavery and go to the land of Israel. Thus ends the book of Genesis!
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from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
The Torah states:
"When I came from Paddan, Rachel died on me in the land of Canaan on the road, while there was still a stretch of land to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the road to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem" (Gen. 48:7).
Rashi says that Jacob was explaining to Joseph why he did not bury Rachel in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, though he was requesting that he be buried there. Jacob said, "It was not because the distance to Hebron was long, because Bethlehem is near Hebron. It was also not because of bad weather that I did not take her to Hebron, because it was the dry season. I buried her there because God instructed me to do so, so that when Jews would be driven into exile, they could pass her grave site and beseech her to intercede with God on their behalf."
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz asks, "Why all this lengthy explanation? Had Jacob simply said, 'God told me to do so,' Joseph would have believed him." Rabbi Shmulevitz derives an important lesson from this: If we have a personal reason and a strong interest in doing something, we may convince ourselves that it is the will of God that we do so. We are very clever in rationalizing and deceiving ourselves. Only when we have no personal gain, when it is not for our comfort or convenience, can we be sure that it is indeed God's will and not our own.
How cautious we must be not to deceive ourselves about our motivation for our actions. Not only must we be careful not to justify a wrong action, but we must also make certain that the right things we do are for the right reason!
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He who seeks happiness
will not find happiness;
he who seeks meaning
will find meaning and happiness!!