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 Beginnings and Endings

01/10/2018 05:57:56 PM


Shalom Hevre,

As we closed a secular year and began another, I have been thinking about beginnings and endings; about closure and making peace with the past. It is also very timely that our end of the secular year marked the last parsha in the book of Genesis, the book with our ancestors' stories, and the first Shabbat in 2018 marks the beginning of Exodus, the story of the people and their/our journey from slavery to freedom and to community and society.

The final parsha in Genesis, Vayehi, has the first Jewish deathbed scene in the torah. Jacob, knowing he is moving towards the end of his life, calls all his sons to his side and offers them "blessings" or words directed only at them and reflective of their unique personalities and the roles they will play as heads of the Israelite tribes in the future. While Jacob's words are not always kind, the scene itself is moving. Our final patriarch has the opportunity to reflect on his life and his legacy in the presence of his loved ones.

A colleague and teacher of mine, Jewish scholar Simcha Raphael names the scene in Vayehi as "conscious dying" -- speaking his mind, sharing his feelings and "finishing business" before his death. He also notes that Jacob gives clear instructions to his sons about where and how he wishes to be buried. Dr. Raphael says that Jacob's actions "invite us to ask if we ourselves are comfortable speaking with loved ones about death? And, even more, are our congregations prepared to deal with people's deathbed and burial needs?"

In the culture in which we live, which is very much a death-denial culture, it is not always easy to reflect on what we want for ourselves in the end of life stages. Yet, it is so important for us, at all stages of life, to be engaging in these conversations. For ourselves and our partners-- but also with our parents and/or or friends, whose wishes we may have to carry out on their behalf.

At SAJ, we want to help people have these kinds of conversations and to reflect personally on what they want for the end of life -- and to find ways to engage their loved ones on this topic. I am thrilled that staff from DOROT will be with us at SAJ on Saturday, January 13 (one week from this Shabbat) at 1:15pm to offer a special program called FIVE WISHES. Five Wishes is a nationally known program intended to change the way we talk about and plan for end of life care ( This program will equip you with information, questions to consider as well as documents such as health care proxies to bring home. Click here to let us know if you will join us.

Our tradition recognizes the importance of marking beginnings and endings and in our torah we are given a model for dealing with death with openness, honesty, and compassion. By marking these moments and trying to make them sacred and holy, we affirm life.

Many blessings,

Rabbi Lauren

Tue, February 19 2019 14 Adar I 5779