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    When you leave home – Vayyetzei

    Jacob & his family leave Haran, by Charles Foster, 1897

    The name Vayyetzei, “And he went out”, is said in regard to the patriarch Jacob when he went out of Beer Sheva and proceeded to Haran (Gen. 28:10).

    The Midrash, followed by Rashi, comments on this passage that when a good person leaves a place his departure is noticed, and his absence leaves a void. Without the person who has now left, the place can no longer be the same as it was.

    In the haftarah of Machar Chodesh, the Book of Samuel (I Sam. 20:18) quotes Jonathan as saying about David, “You will be missed, for your seat will be empty”. The place is bereft when a good person is absent, when their seat is empty.

    Not only the place, but the age. That’s why obituaries and eulogies often say, “It’s the end of an era”.

    The Mishnaic sages realised this when they remarked (Sotah 9:15), “When Rabbi Meir died there were no more makers of parables… When Rabbi Akiva died the glory of the Torah came to an end.”

    The person affects the place. They influence the age. (It works in reverse too). That’s what biographies generally seek to delineate.

    But these things are not said merely to help the historians. They are a challenge to the people who are left behind in the place or period, a challenge to recognise what was done by the person who has now left, to be grateful for their contribution and to build on their example.

    They are also a challenge to the person who leaves the place or the era, to try hard to leave something worthwhile behind when they go.

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