Reflections on Parshat Vayehi

This Shabbat we will read of the passing of two of the most important figures in Jewish history.  First, we will conclude the reading of the Book of Genesis with parshat Va-y’hi which reviews the final words and moments of the Patriarch Jacob.  The Haftorah for this week tells of the closing words and moments of King David.  These two monumental figures, each in their own way, had a significant impact on the history and destiny of the Jewish people.  It is surprising  and a bit disappointing to read that Jacob and David depart from this world with words of anger, vengence and bitterness on their lips. Aren’t the learned great characters of the Bible supposed to die grateful for God’s blessings and  proud of the lives and legacies for which they will be known?


At first glance, one might be inclined to wonder if Jacob and David  were not so great after all?  Actually, the fact that these two final episodes in the lives of Jacob and David are included in our sacred texts speaks volumes about Judaism.  We recognize and accept that there the hero’s, kings and prophets of Jewish history were imperfect human beings like the rest of us.   Jewish people are prepared to accept that the contributions of any individual, famous or not, are not  diminished by their character flaws or moments of poor judgement.  Judaism is not a religion that creates astonishing myths and deities out of charismatic figures who were present at the birth of our faith. Rather, we are a practical and humble people who celebrate the privilege of life in this world.  We seek to learn from the accumulated wisdom of our very human ancestors and the loving God who is continually opening our eyes to the wonders of life and creation. 
Hopefully, when that inevitable moment comes when each of us must take stock of our lives and our contributions to this world, we will be as kind and forgiving of ourselves as we are of the Jacobs and Davids of our Jewish past who’s legacies we still celebrate in prayer and song.


About Mitchell S. Gilbert

Mitch Gilbert is a social worker, writer, and religious educator. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he has done community development work in Washington DC, Cleveland, Akron, Vancouver, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Mitch earned a BA at Brooklyn College (CUNY), a Master of Science in Social Administration degree from Case Western Reserve University. In addition, Mitch has done graduate studies in Jewish tradition, history, and culture at New York University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Mitch serves as a volunteer Jewish chaplain in a state prison and a senior adult residential community. In addition to writing/blogging, he an avid volunteer and political activist.
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