It could be said that our patriarch, Jacob, was the first person to create an ethical will, essentially, a spiritual bequest to his heirs. In this week’s Torah reading, Vayechi, which means, “and he–meaning Jacob–lived,” Jacob gathers his children together to bless them and to tell them what their futures hold. However, as we continue reading, we see that this isn’t what Jacob does; instead, he tells each son things about themselves that aren’t necessarily so positive. Not exactly the legacy we’d want to leave our loved ones, is it?
Our commentators tell us that Jacob had planned to tell the future, but at the moment he began to speak, his prophetic ability departed. That’s probably a good thing. While many of us want to know what will happen to us–or to our children–if whatever is coming isn’t positive, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just read Chloe Benjamin’s book, The Immortalists.
Even though Jacob no longer had the gift of prophecy, I believe he was given an even greater gift–the gift of time. Time to tie up loose ends, deal with unfinished business, say goodbye. The first time I wrote a sermon about this parashah and this gift of time, I was aware that someone in the congregation had recently lost her husband to a massive heart attack. No warning, no time. I’ve often wondered what her thoughts might have been. The flip side when there’s too much time, when the end of one’s life goes far beyond any perceived quality.
In my perfect world, each of us would be given 24-48 hours’ notice, and we’d have time to say goodbye or “I love you,” make any amends that we need to, put our affairs in order. Jacob was given that gift of time, and is the first of our biblical characters to be aware of his impending death.
No one knows their date of death, which gave birth to various incarnations of the quote, “Live each day as if it were your last.” Not to be morbid, but to remind us to do our best to appreciate what we have, and what we are capable of doing and accomplishing. Realistically speaking, we probably can’t make every single moment count, and not every day will be better than the day before. Life and growth aren’t linear processes. However, if we look towards the end and begin to work backwards, we can start thinking about how to live our best lives.