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The last word on Genesis-Vayechi

Parshat Vayechi

Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

We have come to the final Torah portion of Genesis for 5770. It happens to coincide for the last week of the year and the first Shabbat of 2010!  We have come also to the close of the lives of Jacob and then Joseph.  Jacob has been brought down to Egypt by his sons at the invitation of the newly found brother Joseph who is the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. All of Jacob’s son and their families have moved from Canaan to the land of Goshen in Egypt during the great famine and they were more than 70 that went down to Egypt. Jacob lived out his days there. But when he had extracted a promise from his son Joseph that he would be buried with his ancestors, in Hebron in the cave of Machpela which Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had bought from the Hittites at the death of his first wife Sarah. Abraham and Sarah were buried there as well as his own parents, Isaac and Rebekkah and Jacob’s first wife, Leah.  Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel was buried on the road in Bethlehem.

And so at Jacob’s death, his son Joseph fulfills this promise. First Jacob is embalmed as in the Egyptian tradition and the mourning lasts 70 days.  Jacob was given a royal entourage back to the sacred burial grounds at Machpela.  It was like a state funeral as the Egyptian courtiers accompanied Joseph and his brothers as they took back their father’s body for burial.

What does that say to us today?  Do we fulfill bedside last minute requests?

Ethically we are called to do so.  Just as Joseph kept his promise, we too are to keep our promises to our family members in just the same situation unless undue harm would come to the deceased or the family.

But we should also be mindful if we are the ones expressing our desires that we do not do anything that would make it more painful for our survivors.  If we ask that there be no funeral—that is cruel to our survivors who need to have a place and time to mourn and grieve. 

But if we ask to have our bodies donated to science, this is a noble request permitted by Judaism. In a teshuva, a question and answer asked of the Israeli Masorti (Conservative) movement the answer about donating the body to a medical school for teaching purposes is positive.  According the responsum of David Golinkin, the body should only be used for a specified amount of time and then the remains should be buried. And if the family can be present at the burial –even if it is a year later, they should observe one more day of mourning on that day.  The family does observe shiva or the immediate week of mourning from the time the body is removed and received by someone from the medical school and continues for seven days.

The same is true with organ donation. Regardless of the Jewish denomination, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or Orthodox all agree that donating organs is a matter of Pikuach Nefesh, saving a life and is to be encouraged.   Even though traditional Jews might object to an autopsy, traditional Jews understand the power of bringing and renewing life and saving a life.

So if you haven’t authorized organ donation on your driver’s license you can contact the DMV nearest you to change this. Secondly, make sure your loved ones know your wishes concerning organ donation.

 Just as Jacob made his wishes known to Joseph, make sure your wishes are known as well.