Vayechi: How it’s done

phone ringing“Sometime afterward, Joseph was told, ‘Your father is ill.’ So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim” (Gen 47:1)

No one wants to get that call. “Your parent/sibling/child/friend is ill and dying. Get here now.” No matter how much we know it’s coming, no matter how rational we get about that, it’s still getting the call that sets our hearts racing, stops our breathing.

As I get older, this happens to my friends more and more, and it will happen again to me someday. My father died 30 years ago, went off to work and never came home. He was 65, a number that is more and more a close neighbor. But my mom just celebrated her 90th birthday, and this text reminds me of what honoring a beloved but elderly parent is all about.

“He took with him his two sons” –which teaches us to get the family together. What a blessing that Joseph got there in time, and the presence of mind to bring the grandchildren. For my mother’s celebration, we had 20 immediate family members from around the world for almost a full week before the party, and then welcomed 30 additional dear friends and family to our home. Mom was surrounded by her 8 grandchildren, some with partners and/or spouses, and the one representative of the three great-grandchildren. We sang to her, we recited poetry, we took lots of pictures, and joy permeated the rooms of our home.

Like Jacob, Mom was able to rejoice in her family, the blessings surrounding her. Eventually, on his deathbed, Jacob asked for all his sons to gather together at his side. (I wonder where Dina was, but then again, I’m not surprised she wasn’t there; she probably wasn’t missed by those who recorded/wrote the text.) What follows is not so much a blessing for each son, but rather an assessment of a father to his child. Jacob knew what his sons were like, what their personalities were, and knew what kind of lives they would be drawn to. My mother has a remarkable relationship with her grandchildren, each one of them. They talk to her, they call her, they confide in her, and she keeps their confidences. The blessings go both ways. Mom has the same clarity of vision of her children that Jacob had. She knows our failings and our strengths, and loves us anyway.

When Jacob finally died, his son Joseph fulfilled the promise made: to bury him not in Egypt, but to take him home to where his ancestors were, to Machpelah. Joseph performed the ultimate mitzvah, honoring the dead.

I do not relish getting that call, whenever it comes (may it be a long time from now). But I also know that Mom’s active, pretty-darn-healthy life is exactly how she wants it to be, as opposed to a long, slow, painful decline. I have friends who have that sad experience, and I’m grateful we’re not there.  I know I’ll get that call someday. May I have the presence of mind that Joseph had – to gather the clan, to follow her wishes, and to look to new generations with clarity, love, and joy.

 

 

 

 

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Chanukah: Eighth night

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  In the interest of changing times, community, and adult children, I have edited these slightly.

chanukah 8

Tonight, the gift of OPTIMISM

This includes both a sense of perspective and a sense of joy.  Life will be hard enough, so relish the good moments.  Our other gifts will help you stay strong in the face of adversity.  This one will help you savor its absence.  Focus on hope, equanimity, and a positive outlook, instead of on worry and pessimism.  And when you feel despair or pessimism, take that as a sign of what work needs to be done next.  There is always work to be done in this world.  Be a joyous presence.  Count your blessings. Have fun.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

 

 

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Chanukah: Seventh night

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world

chanukah-7

Tonight, the gift of SECURITY

Well, at least as much security as we can give you.  Physical security is no longer guaranteed in this world; violence is random and raging.  But we send you into the world with a deep personal security of who you are.  Your true, long range security has to come from within yourselves, from being and becoming trustworthy.  Meanwhile, we will do all we can to give you the foundation of composure, of knowing without question that you are able to do good things in the world.  We are proud of your innate abilities, your goodness, and your good sense, and of your willingness to try.  You do not need to compete, or to follow the crowd to gain self-esteem, because you already have, from us, and from within yourself, the seeds of true confidence.  Just nurture them.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah: Sixth Night

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world.

Tonight is also Shabbat. It is a night of double lights, and we can never have too much light in the world.May this be a Shabbat of joy, illumination, warmth in the darkness…..and latkes!

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Tonight, the gift of FREEDOM

Freedom came within boundaries that stretched as you got older, and it seemed to have come in painfully measured doses. We always intended you to know and experience freedom within guidelines you can keep using as you’ve matured.  You have become an adult and out in the world of nearly unlimited independence,  so we hope you will know how to use this freedom, and how to be true to your own standards. Freedom didn’t mean just doing what you wanted.  We also hope you realize we gave you this gift  so you would be able to recognize lack of freedom in others, and work so that they too will be free.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah: Fifth night

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  In the interest of changing times, community, and adult children, I have edited these slightly.

Chanukah-Night5

Tonight, the gift of HOME

As in, you can always come home.  As in, you can bring your friends home.  As in, this is your home. You may have moved away, and call another place “home”, but we hope this is “home home”.  You have a place in the world, with us, a shelter, both physical and psychological.  It looks just like any other home, maybe more chaotic than some, but it is your home, your safe place, where you started and where you can always come back to.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah: Fourth night

 

chanukah 4

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world.

Tonight, the gift of JUDAISM

We give you Judaism, your own personal connection  with the Source and Spirit of the World.  This great gift includes spiritual strength, heritage, a strong moral code, and an incredible gift for survival.  Judaism gives you inspiration, scholarship, protection, compassion, a way to live, and a people to belong to, wherever life takes you. We give you this gift, hoping like us, you will unwrap it throughout your life,  and find new joys and questions, new ideas and old friends.  Sometimes this gift gets complicated, and sometimes downright confusing.  But we hope we are showing you how it may change in practice, not presence; how it continues to be a source within your soul.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah

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Chanukah: Third night

 

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world.

chanukah 3

Tonight, the gift of FAMILY

This is what can make you feel suffocated and free, alone and never alone.  This is your blessing.  This is your four beloved grandparents, whether alive or not.  This is the aunts and uncles and cousins that seem endless, but are so dear to us, that every chance we get, we gather together.  This is the other departed members of our family that you hear us talk about.  This is what you will be to your children.  This is the crowd around the menorah and the table on Shabbat.  This is the other part of your roots, the groundedness you get when you know who you are and whose examples you can follow. This is growing up in a setting where we try hard every day to show you how much family means to us, how much we mean to each other.  We offer this gift with such joy and love.

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