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    The best way to die – Vayyechi

    Jacob blesses his sons on his deathbed (Figures de la Bible, 1728)

    Franz Rosenzweig derives important philosophical observations from the fact that dying is the one thing we have to do alone.

    Most experiences in a person’s life are social moments in the sense that others are necessarily involved – birth, marriage, etc. But we die alone.

    The old joke involving a parent explaining his wishes about the disposition of his assets sees family members all arguing about whether he is right, until finally he has to say, “Tell me – who is dying, you – or me?”

    Jokes apart, if the one who is dying is surrounded by his family, when the moment comes he has to cross the bridge alone.

    In the Torah reading this week it is like this with Jacob, though we have no way of knowing for sure what his children respond when he addresses each one in turn, and whether they argue with his summing up of each of them.

    We do understand that as his time is now so short he is desperate to finish his last words before his lips are closed forever.

    In comparison with what happens in our days Jacob and his family are rather fortunate. At least they have these moments together, whereas today many people die in hospital, the pain deadened by reason of modern advances in medicine.

    This is not – God forbid – an argument for dying in agony, but it pinpoints a problem that society must deal with – how to ensure that there is an opportunity to say the things that need to be said. Of course this would require us to be prophets and to know in advance when we will die.

    The ancient rabbis said that one should repent the day before his death. Does anyone know the day of his death? “No,” was the answer, “so let everyone repent every day of his life”.

    Likewise, every day of our lives we should speak the words of love and concern that should not be left unsaid.

    It is like someone I knew who tidied his desk before going to bed each night, in case he did not wake up to a new day.

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