The struggle for meaning: the masterpiece that is lifeParshat Veyechi Genesis: 47-28-50:26/I Kings 2:1-12

The struggle for meaning: the masterpiece that is lifeParshat Veyechi Genesis: 47-28-50:26/I Kings 2:1-12

We have been taught that artists, when constructing a masterpiece, are not well served if they continually wield the brush. At times, artists must put the brush down, step back from the canvas and re-establish the vision of the object they are attempting to capture.
This week is such a time. In our Torah portion, Veyechi, we read of the death of our third patriarch, Jacob. And in our Haftara portion, we read of the death of our beloved King David.
As we visit with Jacob and David in their final hours, we share the reflections and preparations they make, as death prepares to take them. Both of their deathbed narratives are rich with potential meaning for us; and as we read them we are moved to ask who these two men were and to explore the similarities Jacob and David shared.
The profiles we have of Jacob and David are — to stretch the metaphor of art — minimalist. And yet, in spite of only the briefest of sketches for their lives, our tradition generously allows us to see ourselves in Jacob and David. Many of us know the debilitating pain of unrequited love, jealousy and an inability to commune with those we love. Still, others can see ourselves in the dejected and lonely Jacob and within the privileged and tormented David.
Jacob and David are mirrors for us. We, too, carry wounds. We, too, know pain. Some of it we are able to acknowledge, and some we are not. Yet always our pain is a part of us. Truly, time does not heal all things, and yet still we live; and if we are fortunate and brave — as were Jacob and David — we make peace with our past.
What is it that unites Jacob and David, such that our tradition should twin their deaths? I offer it is the notion that even as they lay on their deathbeds, each strives to plumb meaning from life; that even as their final hours are upon them, each labors to overcome that which limits them. This is the essence of our people’s history; and we read of both Jacob and David’s deaths on the same day, because we are enjoined to do no less.
Clearly, our tradition holds Jacob and David up as men who share much. Their backgrounds manifest similarity. Their achievements are analogously great. Yet still I suggest Jacob and David’s yahrzeits are twinned not because they are so much alike, but rather because amidst their differences, each recognizes and participates in an ongoing struggle for meaning. In this, Jacob and David are models for us.
Our Torah is the benchmark against which we measure ourselves, from which we move forward, and to which we return again and again. And so, as we share Veyechi, we are aware that we do so in an effort to at once learn of Jacob and David, but more importantly, we do so in order to learn something of ourselves.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinical Association.)