Letters from Leah
Dear Beit Sefer Families,
“Vayechi” means “he lived.” This is how the Torah portion for this coming Shabbat begins. Each time the Torah is about to tell us about someone who is dying or dies, it starts with this verb. You may be familiar with the words, “chai” or “chayim” which means “life” or “l’chayim” which is a toast that means “to life.” Personally, I love this concept of noting someone’s death by recognizing his life. In this Torah portion, Jacob is ill and dying. His sons and grandsons gather around him to be blessed. I have a strong personal connection to this Torah portion and this image. When my 94 year old grandmother was facing her last couple of days, and knew that she was her in last lucid moments, my cousins and I gathered around her bed. She said something personal to each of us reflective of something in our own relationships. Each interaction was a personal gift of recognition and love from her. My daughter, Leila, was a few weeks short of turning three at the time. We lived in the apartment next door and spent a lot of time with my grandmother. To me she asked, “Will Leila remember me?”
By using the verb “he lived,” I think the Torah bridges the continuation between death and memory. While a person’s physical presence is gone, the memory stays with us, and the person lives through us. Jacob, otherwise known as Israel, lives in the name of our Temple, Temple Beth Israel, House of Israel.
Many of us preserve the memories of our family members by continuing the traditions that we performed together. And for many people, preserving memory through tradition is an important part of being Jewish.
Who are the people who continue to live through you?
What are the memories and traditions that you want to share with your children?
Leila remembers my grandmother; my other daughter Bella is named for her. Both of my daughters play on my grandmother’s piano which now has a home in my house. There are many ways in which my grandmother continues to live through mine and my family’s memories. And, here I am at Temple Beth Israel Preserving the memory of the people of Israel by writing about our tradition.