Vayechi 5782 – Planning Ahead

By: Michael Carr

Today’s Parasha is supposedly the least dramatic and emotional of many Torah stories.  Personally I kinda think that Bamidbar (you know the one where the tribes are counted) is not so exciting either.  So rather than look for drama in this parasha over the deaths of Jacob and Joseph, or Jacob’s blessing of Ephriam & Manassah or….well you know,  sometimes Midrash commentaries provide inspired and expanded illustrations.

Just before he dies, Joseph get’s the Israelites and his brothers to swear/promise an oath that they will take his bones when they leave Egypt (to be buried in Shechem).  So Joseph shares expectations of what he wants done with his bones upon his death but that’s about it. No more discussion in the Torah about this except once in Exodus where Moses carries the excess bone baggage out of Egypt. No bones about it.

According to Rabbi Stephen Pearce, centuries later Rabbis imagined what preparing for the Exodus might have looked like. While Israelites crammed possessions into sacks, Moses may have searched frantically for Josephs remains to make good on the oath.  Maybe, after an initial search, Moses learns that the Egyptians hid Joseph’s remains in the Nile River, not only to allow the body/bones to consecrate the water, but more importantly to prevent the Israelites  from leaving Egypt because of the Israelites promise/oath made to Joseph. Ok – so here is some drama -Moses learns of Joseph’s burial in the Nile and raced to its shores and calls, “Joseph, Joseph, the time has come in which God swore to redeem Israel, and for the fulfillment of the oath you had Israel swear to you.  Israel is waiting for you.”  With those words, Joseph’s coffin bobs to the surface; Moses retrieves it and takes it on his desert wanderings until it could be buried in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy Rabah 11:7; Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 13a-b).

What a timely parasha. It got me thinking about how the deaths of these patriarchs were handled. Recently as you may know we have had our own experience with the passing of a matriarch, Lorraine Ruth Fenig Goldner who actually helped us make a minion during the beginning of the high holidays. Sue Kramer, Sharon Kaplan and Barry Goldner (Lorraine’s children) have collectively learned much from this experience. For example:

Her experience of death was never about anyone except Lorraine.  What were her wishes? What was in her living will/will? What about her burial? What were her terms and conditions?

Thank goodness Lorraine planned ahead to assure no surprises/no guess work. Sue, Sharon and Barry knew what their mom Lorraine wanted. No need to locate the sworn oath or pledge to this or that. Everyone was on the same page.

Life changing events like death can pull families apart. Lorraine’s passing was what was needed at this very important and solemn time to bring the family closer together.

Death is both complicated and it’s not.
Medical professionals who are also the child/children of a terminal patient are faced with challenges that can make it hard to compartmentalize and separate emotions from medical decisions.
Sometimes death comes in a quiet patient room when no one is present.
Lorraine’s final peaceful breath was expelled simply from hearing the voice of her son surrounded by family.

This family is grateful for caring and thoughtful medical teams.
This family is grateful for a loving support network.
This family is grateful for a Jewish community that supports one another allowing a grieving family to focus on their emotions of many, many, memories past.

Sometimes to find our way, we all need to step back and let others do the work.

Regrets are easy to come by. Forgive yourself.
Know with humility that those who have passed with dignity are in a better place than the vulnerable suffering state where they were.

How do we maintain the dignity of our loved ones memories and honor them the way we expect they would wish to be honored? Perhaps the way the Israelites honored Jacob and Joseph.

There was hope back in the day for a brighter future where we remembered the promises to be kept and anticipation for living in a Promised Land where we would flourish.

Peace & Good Shabbos!