Vayechi 5777

Jacob is not dead!” says the Talmud, provocatively, as a surprising comment on the biblical description of Jacob’s dying blessings, death and burial. Certainly, those whose memories echo in us are not entirely gone; those whose promises and aspirations remain as yet unfulfilled are still somehow present in this world. But why is Jacob so different, to deserve such an audacious comment? Perhaps: Jacob was renamed Israel, “for you struggled with God and man, and overcame,” and in dying lived on as a myth, the foundational myth for the people later also known as Israel. Yet the Talmud emphasises that the pre-“Israel”, pre-overcoming, still doubting, still struggling aspect of “Jacob” should live on as part of the foundational myth too.

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[Inspired by: Genesis 32 and 49; Rabeinu Behaye and Taanit 5b;  Walter Benjamin’s The Storyteller; and Death and the Maiden by Edvard Munch, Schubert, Egon Schiele, Andree Howard and others.]

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