Friday, January 13, 2017

Preserving our Legacy - Parashat Vayechi (a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. and to Jacob) - January 13, 2017

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
     Many of you will recognize that excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech, delivered in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated.    
     I still wonder how he could offer thoughts and words so timely, as if he knew what was going to happen the next day.  What is more likely is that his awareness that he was a walking target led him to make that declaration publicly at least once.  What was important about what he said was that he knew that his legacy was intact.  He had developed a movement.  He had galvanized the desires and hopes of people who needed faith and optimism.  King realized that while he was a leader in the struggle for expanded civil rights, he could not be the only voice if goals for equality were to be reached.  We can see today that there are many people who pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. through their work for civil rights and voting rights, which are political battles that are not yet totally won in a way that acknowledges everyone’s place in society.    The poverty that King hoped to alleviate still is with us.  The peace in the world that he sought has not come to fruition.  It was apparent from what he declared in his last speech that King knew that there would be others to take up the mantle of his dreams and his vision in the future. His words reverberate in our minds when we consider what we still must do.  
    Like Martin Luther King, Jr., each of us has dreams, aspirations and a vision not just for ourselves but for life in the human community.     We act on those values in our relationships and as citizens who have an opportunity to make an impact on our corner of the world.   Last night, in our discussion session on the book WISE AGING (by Rabbi Rachel Cowan and Dr. Linda Thal), each participant drew, on a sheet of paper, a depiction of a “river” of his or her life, noting the most important events along the way and identifying people who were present at those moments. Each of those visual life reviews identified what was meaningful and significant throughout the years, both in terms of personal achievement and in work that touched others in a way that left a lasting impact.    Looking at the sweep of a lifespan, even on paper, can invokes a sense of awe, amazement and satisfaction, if we allow ourselves to see what we have done as a complete legacy at any given time.
Twelve Tribe Window
Temple Beth-El
Las Cruces, NM
Twelve Tribe Window
Temple Beth-El
Las Cruces,NM
    In the Torah reading for this week, Jacob, who was nearing death, realized that he needed to leave his children and grandchildren a legacy in the form of a blessing, words that would stay with them and be passed on to future generations.    Jacob had received a spiritual inheritance from his parents and grandparents,  and he wanted to be certain that the next generations understood how important they were as the descendants of Abraham and Sarah and as Jacob’s children and grandchildren.   When Jacob first arrived in Egypt, Pharaoh met him and immediately asked how many years he had lived.  Jacob responded: “The years of my sojourn [on Earth] are one hundred and thirty. Few and hard have been the years of my life, nor do they come up to the life-spans of my fathers during their sojourns.”    After seeing Joseph for the first time in many years, it was clear that Jacob wasn’t quite ready to convey or even feel relief and joy at the reunification of his family.  Eventually, he would find that contentment after living for a time in Egypt.    Jacob would bless his sons with individual characterizations that conveyed their personality, expressions that are portrayed in the stained-glass windows here on the bimah.   My favorite statement from Jacob is his blessing of his grandsons, “May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh.”  At that moment, Jacob could have told them all about himself and focused on his own life experiences, recounting his challenges and the travail that he felt when he spoke to Pharaoh.  Instead, he was ready to look towards the future.  When he brought the two boys close to him, he created a memorable encounter that solidified the link between them and their family, all the way back to their great-great grandparents.  In telling them that future generations would offer blessing using THEIR names, Jacob thrust Ephraim and Manasseh into the spotlight, a central position that would require them to visibly preserve the heritage that was being handed down to them.   They would need to discover God as Jacob had at Beth-El.  They would need to wrestle with God or with themselves to reach their highest potential.   They would also, hopefully, retain and nurture the faith that began with Abraham’s realization that the existence of one God could lead them to a vision of one humanity that would, one day, find peace.
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jacob in the bible left something significant to their followers and their family that would stay with them for the coming generations.   As we consider our own legacies, who will carry on our mission?  Who will take our achievements and add their own enhancing touch to them in a way that honors us? Who will learn from our wisdom and values?   Who will be inspired by our vision of a promised land to the point of engaging in action that will make real the goals for which we have worked throughout our lives?   There are likely people whom we know or whom we don’t know who share our values, who will apply those principles in a way that will spread kindness, goodness, understanding,  and a richness of spirit that constitutes a promised land that will offer many members of the human family help and hope.  Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and like Jacob,  we will not fear, because all we are and all we do will offer blessing to everyone around us.  May that be the legacy we leave. 

No comments:

Post a Comment