Torah Portion: Vayehi
Book of Genesis
January 13, 2017
The book of Genesis began with the story of birth (creation of the world) and concludes with the deaths of Jacob and Joseph, the end of the patriarchal period in biblical history.
The bible appears to suggest that death is not the end, but the announcement of a new beginning. Following the death of Joseph, the book of Exodus begins with a new birth-Moses. A new beginning, the birth of the Jewish people. When Moses dies, the biblical reader is immediately introduced to a new leader, Joshua. In a strange way, death is no more an end than birth is a beginning. As mortals our knowledge of life is limited to the cognitive understanding of birth and death as beginning and end. That is all we are programmed to know. It does not necessarily mean life begins at birth and ends with death. In the words of a familiar hackneyed expression, could it be that “when one door closes another one opens?”
The ancient mystics of Judaism suggest that the essence of humankind is the soul. Each soul is an extension of God’s presence on earth. They further teach that each individual soul comes into this world with a particular task. Accomplished in concert with all humankind, it will bring completion to the act of creation (a goal referred to as the “Messianic era”). When a life comes to an end, if the soul was unable to perform his/her unique task it is reincarnated until the task is finally completed.
Famed psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross tells the story of someone writhing in pain, suddenly being enveloped by darkness and a sensation of whirling through space only to suddenly see a bright light ahead and then a thunderous voice proclaiming, “It’s a boy!” Is birth, itself, a death only to be reborn again?
So much is written on the greatest mystery in life- death. The common link found in the words of the mystics, the teachings of the pious, and the metaphysical probing’s of the philosopher is that death is not the negation of life. Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “Death is not a counterpoint or contradiction to life, but a profound teacher about the meaning of human existence.”
Rabbi Howard Siegel