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.