Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story: Vayishlakh 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How do we best pass our legacy to a new generation? Is it best done through stories, photographs, or other material items? To what extent is it our responsibility to leave a legacy, and to what extent must our descendents recognize it themselves?

In this week’s Torah portion, when Rachel dies in childbirth, she tries to leave a legacy to her new son by giving him a name  – a name that Jacob changes:

The Pitch: “They set out from Bethel; but when they were still some distance short of Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. … But as she breathed her last – for she was dying – she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. Thus Rachel died. She was buried on the road to Ephrath – now Bethlehem. Over her grave Jacob set up a pillar; it is the pillar at Rachel’s grave to this day.” – Genesis 35:16, 18-20

Swing #1: “[The] Hebrew [word] nephesh, despite its traditional translation ‘soul,’ never refers to that which continues to exist after death, through the nephesh departs when one dies. In this connection, H. W. Wolff observes, ‘man does not have [nephesh], he is [nephesh], he lives as [nephesh].’” – John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible

Swing #2: “The text does not read: ‘The same is the pillar of Rachel to this day,’ for Rachel herself did not need a monument. ‘One does not rear monuments to the righteous, for their words are their memorial.’ Righteous men and women do not need pillars of stone to perpetuate their memory. Thus the pillar which Jacob set up was intended only as ‘the pillar of Rachel’s grave,’ marking the site of the grave so that those of her descendants who might wish to visit the grave and pray there might know where it is.” – Homat Esh

Swing #3: “‘Son of my sorrow (Ben-oni)’ she calls her second son upon dying. She who desperately cried ‘Give me children, or else I die!’ (Genesis 30:1) ironically dies upon bearing a son.” – Ilana Pardes, Countertraditions in the Bible: A Feminist Approach

Late-Inning Questions: Are our children’s names an extension of our legacies, or more of a wish for how they will live their lives in the future? Are we responsible for maintaining the legacies of others? Or do we simply forge new paths based on what we think is best?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: In order to utilize technology for our Singing Circle Kabbalat Shabbat, tonight’s Friday night services will begin at 4:45PM. Cap off your Black Friday by joining us in song and gratitude.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of legacies, it’s curious how so many Major League teams are making statues of their all-time great players outside of their stadiums. Sometimes these statues are created while that player is still alive. Does a statue leave a lasting impression on the fans who see it? Is this the best way to maintain a player’s legacy?

Shabbat Shalom!