By Jackie Honig, December 30, 2023

This week I’ve been catching up on Doctor Who, which included the return of a familiar face – David Tennant. For those of you who don’t watch, the premise of the show is that there’s a time traveling alien who periodically regenerates into a new form – known as “The Doctor.” The show just celebrated its 60th anniversary and it can do so because every iteration of the character is played by a different actor. Each regeneration marks the departure of a beloved actor and plays out in an emotional scene on the show – they have a beautiful speech, a quippy last line, and then they sort of explode with a beautiful blast of energy to be immediately replaced by the next incarnation. The minute The Doctor is back on the scene, the fun and adventures ensue. There is truly never a dull moment with The Doctor.

One of the most famous last lines is delivered by David Tennant – five simple words that carry a lifetime’s worth of emotions – “I don’t want to go.” His character knows he’ll be back for new adventures with new friends, off to the furthest reaches of time and space and yet he’s just not ready. We see this sort of emotion in our parsha today, and I feel it deeply in my life right now.

While this parsha is named Vayechi and it opens with telling us the years of Yaakov’s life, we actually find ourselves mostly reading about Yaakov’s death. On his deathbed, Yaakov addresses each of his children. You might have expected that he would bless each of his children, especially as he does so with Yosef’s children. Instead, we find ourselves witnessing an unexpected, but incredibly human scene – a father holding onto things that are clearly unresolved. Here, in his final moments, he insists on telling his children what he thinks. This isn’t a beautiful, peaceful scene where everyone moves on and its all hunky dory. This is a moment of ending, but more of a moment of conflict than closure.

Yaakov’s death also marks the end of the patriarchs. The story is no longer about 3 men and 4 women and the people surrounding them, it is now about B’nai Yisrael, in the literal and figurative sense. Another ending, another transition, another opportunity for something new. But what do we do with that?

This moment in our story and in our lives feel strange – certain milestones generally have a particular feeling attached to them. Not all endings are the same, they often come with mixed emotions. But generally endings that are immediately followed by something new, like a new sefer of Torah or a new year, are filled with excitement, with hope and expectations of something new that could be.

Today that feels dishonest for me. To say that I feel hope or excitement for 2024 would be to lie to you all. I know that January 2024 is coming soon. I had to write the date in an e-mail this week. It was the first time I had to specify that I meant 2024 – and I felt absolutely nothing about it. I literally almost left it out because I am very unprepared to face everything that comes with a new year.

I don’t feel ready for Sefer Shemot yet either. I’m not usually one with strong feelings about books of the torah, but somehow today’s chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek just didn’t sit with me the way it usually does. The reading of Sefer Bereshit this year has been deeply connected to the war in Israel for me. We began the reading just as war was breaking out in Israel – these two things have become intertwined for me.

These last 84 days have passed as one chunk of time. Israel has been at war, hostages are not in their homes where they belong, rockets are raining down, soldiers are being sent to war. People are dying. So many things that I just wish and pray and hope would end. And yet, here we are. Expected to take not one but TWO containers that have held this war, the sefer and the secular year, and we are supposed to close the door on them at once. That means, as I am coming to realize, that we have to carry these things into what comes next. And it isn’t fair, and it is hard, and we have no choice. Time moves forward and pulls us with her.

We look to Torah to teach us lessons for our lives. Thankfully we have begun to see the flaws in our ancestors and understand the space that gives us to live our perfectly human and never-actually-perfect lives. There could have been a story in which every death of our ancestors was tied up with a nice bow – where every ending was perfect and everyone was ready to bless their children and exit the scene peacefully. But instead, we see Yaakov facing an ending and doing the unexpected. He takes his final moments not to bring closure and comfort, not to say good-bye, but to offer a final rebuke, to keep living his life all the way until the end – maybe in denial, maybe because he’s simply not ready – he doesn’t want to go.

Our new sefer and our new year should be full of hope, but maybe this year, this time, they’re not – and that’s okay. When we finish reading a book of torah, we don’t ask for peace, we ask for strength – and today that feels more fitting than ever. As we carry the hard things with us into the new sefer and the new year may we have strength to live our imperfect human lives, find strength in Torah and its lessons for our modern lives, and be strengthened in community as we face what lies in front of us together. Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek.

Shabbat shalom.

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