"And He Lived"
This Dvar Torah was written by Diane Lipson Schilit in memory of her father, Sol Lipson. Diane is a member of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation's Israel Engagement Committee and CAJE's Teen Education and Engagement Committee.
The week’s parsha is Vayehi, the last Torah portion of the Bereisheet/ Genesis.
Vayehi literally means “and he lived” and yet, we learn about Jacob and Joseph’s death in this parsha.
Vayehi begins in a way that is unique among the weekly parshiyot-- between every two other parshiyot in the Torah, we find a line break or space in the Torah scroll. But Vayehi is the exception. It begins without any clear demarcation from the end of Parashat Vayiggash, the parasha that comes before it.
Perhaps one reason might be to cover up the loss of Jacob? For while Jacob may have died and his physical presence was gone, his legacy lived on.
My father, Sol Lipson, passed away on the 12th of Kislev (November 16th) at the age of 100. “And He Lived.”
My father was a Holocaust survivor from Radom, Poland, and he would say that each day since his liberation on April 7, 1945, had been bonus time. He never imagined that he would have such a dynasty – children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
He did acknowledge that awful things had happened, such as his mother, baby sister and oldest brother being killed in the Shoah and then my mom dying at such a young age.
Like Jacob, my father lived through many difficult situations, but unlike Jacob, he would never have said “Few and hard have been the years of my life (Gen. 47:9).” My father always seemed to find the good in everything and lived every day to its fullest.
He was a true survivor.
It’s in this parsha that Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh, his grandsons, the sons of Joseph. Jacob wants to take the time to impart his values to his grandchildren.
In looking through my father’s papers the other day, I found a copy of a prayer entitled Jacob’s blessing to his grandchildren – Yom Kippur 5768 (14 years ago).
Families today still bless their sons each Shabbat with the words from this parsha that took place 3000 years ago– “G!d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.”
Please permit me to read from part of the hesped/eulogy that I delivered for my father:
The late Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l comments on Genesis 32:27 that. He points out that tough experiences are often the most important the words that Jacob utters to the angel, “I will not let you go until you bless me,” lie at the heart of surviving crisis in our lives...
He says, “A protected life is a fragile and superficial life. Strength comes from knowing the worst and refusing to give in. Jacob/Israel has bequeathed us many gifts, but few more valuable than the obstinacy and resilience that can face hard times and say of them, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me.’
I will not give up or move on until I have extracted something positive from this pain and turned it into blessing.”
My father survived crisis and turned it into blessings for all of us. We were and still are so blessed to have him in our lives. He will live on through his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We will continue to tell his stories.
A professor at Cal State, Chico, interviewed my father about resilience and upon hearing about my father’s death, wrote: Your parents taught me so much while growing up. They gave me hope that out of ashes we can grow stronger roots. They taught me how humor and laughter are important in our lives and that we are so resilient as human beings.
The parsha concludes with Joseph’s death.
Perhaps my dad learned from Joseph the lessons of resilience… From Poland to Germany to Paris to a farm in New Jersey to Miami – building a life and a “dynasty” as my dad liked to call his family. My father was the most optimistic person that I have ever met.
As one of my rabbis in Maryland, Rabbi Mitch Berkowitz explains: Parshat Vayehi teaches us that the physical passing of a loved one is not as “final” as we might otherwise imagine.
Physical life is fleeting— we exist on this earth for mere moments in time. However, our impact and our influence on this world and those who inhabit it can be eternal.
What we choose to do with this precious gift of life is up to us, and we have the potential to use this gift for the betterment of the world...”
We got up from sitting shiva for my father on Thanksgiving morning and then ushered in Hanukkah that Sunday night. In Israel and around the world, children sing a song in Hebrew that means:
“Each of us is one small light. But all together, we shine bright!"
It reminds me of my father’s dynasty or how our Jewish organizations all try to bring us together so we can shine bright as a community.
May my dad’s memory inspire our holy work.
AND HE LIVED.