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Home » Death, Life Is Beautiful, Vayechi

Vayechi: Leave No Word Unspoken

Submitted by on December 27, 2009 – 3:21 amNo Comment | 2,217 views

Eternal Regret

A common regret expressed by bereaved family members are the words that were left unspoken. I remember one man, whose father passed away at a younger age than most, who regretted not having expressed his love for his father more frequently. I recall another whose loved one passed away before she had a chance to resolve a long held grievance. The common exhortation expressed by all mourners is, take advantage of every living moment and make sure to leave no regrets.

If this is true of mourners it is also true of those who have passed on; burdens of the heart are the most difficult ones to carry into death. When our time comes and we have reviewed our life we are often sapped of energy and unable to make amends. The time to correct past wrongs is before our health has deteriorated; before we have arrived at the gates of afterlife.

Jacob’s Apology

Jacob was an elderly man when he summoned his son Joseph and left instructions to be buried in Israel alongside his parents. Knowing that Joseph was unhappy that his mother’s interment in Bethlehem deprived her from burial alongside her husband, Jacob apologized to his son. Know, he told him, that your mother passed away when I was on the road and I was unable to carry her remains to my ancestral burial place in Hebron. (1)

Jacob did not explain this earlier because he knew that Joseph never suspected him of wrongdoing; Joseph understood his father’s reasons for burying Rachel in Bethlehem. But emotionally, his mother’s exclusion from the sacred burial place remained a raw wound; something he found difficult to accept.

When Jacob asked to be interred in the sacred cave from which Rachel was excluded Jacob knew this would open Joseph’s emotional wounds anew. Jacob did not avoid the issue, but addressed Joseph’s feelings directly. There was not much Jacob could say that Joseph did not already know, but hearing it from his father, accepting his comfort and empathy, was a salve to Joseph’s tender heart. (2)

Orchestrating Opportunities

Many issues are too delicate to be addressed directly. Had Jacob addressed Joseph’s concerns directly before this time it would have made Joseph uneasy. He knew his father did the right thing and his emotional inability to accept it was his own burden to bear. Had his father apologized it would only serve to exacerbate Joseph’s discomfort.

So Jacob waited until an opportunity arose and when it did he took immediate advantage of it. Further, Jacob did not only wait for the opportunity to arise, he orchestrated it. Jacob made his request for interment knowing that this would stir pent up emotions within Joseph and knowing also that this would provide an opportunity to soothe Joseph’s heart.

Waiting Too Long

It is interesting to note that Jacob did not wait till the last minute when he might have been too ill to speak. Jacob addressed this issue as soon as Joseph came to his bedside before he offered blessing to his other children.

Holy and pious people, such as Jacob, are informed of their exact moment of passing. Jacob knew precisely how much time he had left and precisely how much energy he would have at every moment in the process. (3) But ordinary people, like ourselves, are not privy to this information and must therefore heed the advice of our sages to treat every day as if it is our last. (4)

If there is an apology we have not given, let us give it today. If there is an apology we have not received, let us ask for it today. If there is a loved one who doesn’t know it, let us tell him toleave no work unspoken - innerstreamday. If there is a loved one with whom want to spend more time, let us make that time today. Leave no work unspoken.

If there is a matter of some delicacy that requires addressing, but cannot be addressed directly, let us orchestrate the circumstances that will allow it to be addressed. If such orchestration requires forethought and wise counsel, let us seek out that counsel and invest such forethought today.

I Love You

Tracy’s father was a taciturn man who hardly expressed his emotions. He never told his daughter of his love and after being rebuffed many times she stopped seeking it. One day, when she was a mature adult, her parents invited her for a rare evening out on the town.

Sitting in an elegant restaurant she noticed her father’s roving eyes taking in every diner in the room, but herself. Gathering her courage she tried one last time and asked why it was so difficult for him to look at her. His eyes grew misty and he blinked as he softly replied, “Because I love you so much. . . because I love you.” Taken aback by his sudden declaration she whispered back, “I love you too, Dad.”

Her father apologized for not being demonstrative and explained that his parents never hugged or kissed him. He had learned from them how not to express love and now he was too old to change . . . still he wanted her to know that he loved her.

Tracy excused herself and went to the ladies room for a moment, but when she returned her world was overturned. Her father sat slumped in his chair, his face ashen gray. An ambulance was called and he was rushed away, but it was really all too late. (5)

Tracy’s father was lucky to have told his daughter what he had so badly wanted to say all his life. But he played it dangerously close; little did he know that his time was up. Let us not take that chance. Let us learn from Jacob and speak our minds today.

Burdens of the heart are the heaviest to carry and there is no reason to carry them alone.

Footnotes

  1. Genesis 48: 7. See Rashi’s commentary ibid.
  2. Likutei Sichos, v. 37, pp. 237-238.
  3. See commentary of Ramban, Toras Moshe (Alshich) and Orach Chayim on Genesis 47:29.
  4. Ethics of Our Fathers
  5. Small Miracles of Love and Friendship, Yitta
    Halberstam & Judith Leventhal,  Adams Media Corporation, 1999, p. 98.
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