Not Waiting for the Monument
Jan 2nd, 2012 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
“To Whoever is Reading Me”
You are invulnerable. Have they not granted you
the powers that preordain your destiny,
the certainty of dust? Is not your time
as irreversible as that same river
where Heraclitus, mirrored, saw the symbol
of fleeting life? A marble slab awaits you
which you will not read–on it, already written,
the date, the city, and the epitaph.
Other men too are only dreams of time,
not indestructible bronze or burnished gold;
the universe is, like you, a Proteus.
Dark, you will enter the darkness that awaits you,
doomed to the limits of your traveled time.
Know that in some sense you are already dead.
(Jorge Luis Borges)
“Jacob, our Patriarch, did not die (Ta’anit 5a).”
In “A Different Sort of Fear of Life,” we realized that many of the major events in Jacob’s life were shaped by the way people faced death, and we traced that back to the Garden in Eden. Is it not fascinating that this portion is named, “Vayechi,” “And he lived?”
We’ve had, “Vayeitzei,” “And he left;” Vayishlach,” “And he sent;” “Vayeishev,” “And he settled;” now we finally have Jacob living!
We had, “God, the Lord, sent him from the Garden in Eden (2:23),” [Banished!] Adam left the Garden, and settled outside the Garden [Just That Little Bit Removed].” No wonder the Sages teach that, “Jacob’s beauty was a reflection of Adam’s (Bava Metzia 84a),” Jacob retraced the life of Adam back to its beginning when, “Man became a living being (2:7).”
How does the man who, after living a life unsullied by the fear of death, reconnected to Adam’s becoming a living being, face his death?
“Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried (47:29-30),” which reflects a life lived conquering the way other people dealt with death:
“He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz (28:19),” the same Luz as in, “Jacob said to Joseph, ‘God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there He blessed me’ (48:3),” Jacob reverts to its original name Luz, “The land of Eternal Life.” (Bereishit Rabbah 69:7; Zohar I, Toledot, II, Terumah) rather than the name he gave the city, Bethel.
Something happened at Luz-Bethel, something that led Jacob to, “lift(ed) his feet, and went toward the land of the people of the east (29:1),” (“Rock and Bust“) as in, “He stationed at the east of the Garden of Eden the Cherubim and the flame of the ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life (3:24),” (Eichah & Tisha B’Av Part One) and as did Cain, who, “left the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden (6:16).”
Jacob travelled in the opposite direction of the Tower of Babel builders, who, “When they migrated from the east (11:1).”
Jacob experiences the Land of Eternal Life, and sets out to reverse the steps taken by Adam, Cain, and the Tower, away from Eden and the Tree of Life.
“And Jacob lived,” “Vayechi,” is the story of a man who lived every moment of his life, even in death and after!
And there’s (much) more…
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