Parshat Vayichi: Following the Moral Road

I just finished the second season of The Crown; the historical dramatization of Queen Elizabeth and family. Despite some poetic license, the episodes accurately reflect the sordid details about the Royal Family and their oft-unstable relationships. For many of the personalities, wealth, fame and status take priority over morality and fidelity. The Royals (not all of them, of course) believe they are entitled to a life without restraint and without parameters. Unfortunately, there were few people who could (or would) keep them more grounded.

The Torah portion for this week, Vayichi, addresses some of the issues which plagued the Royals. Jacob, the elderly patriarch, nears the end of his life. Before he dies, Jacob offers a final charge to his sons (again, DInah is omitted here). His words however, do not constitute a final blessing. Rather, his observations reflect Jacob’s concern about the future path of his children. To his elder sons, Reuben, Simon and Levi, Jacob is brutally honest; condemning their instability and their violent impulses. Jacob certainly loves his children; but now is the time for candor and not for coddling. He addresses his children as patriarchs of their own, individual families; patriarchs whose example will set a tone for their descendants. Jacob fears that the questionable behaviors of his eldest children will filter down to the next generations. In calling attention to their serious shortcomings, Jacob intends to recalibrate his sons toward a more grounded and moral path. Despite his own flaws as a parent (or perhaps because of them), Jacob is the voice of reason, insight and refreshing honesty. He speaks to his children about the kind of prosperity which is not material-oriented; a prosperity which will enable his clan to live morally and spiritually healthy lives.

Jewish texts and rituals recognize the importance of living in material comfort; but not at the expense of ethical values. Our lives must reflect ideals which bring honor to ourselves, our families and our world. The final words of Jacob endure as a precious, character lesson to us today. As we begin a new year, hopefully our world will embrace his words and begin to live by them.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year!
Rabbi Klayman