"But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom." - 1 Kings 2:7
This Torah portion for this week is Vayechi, which means "and he lived," from Genesis 47:28-50:26, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 2:1-12.
Where does the name "Jew" come from? The simple explanation is that 2,000 years ago, the kingdom of Israel was split. Ten of the 12 tribes made up "Israel," while the tribes of Judah and Benjamin became "Judea." When Judea was exiled (long after Israel was lost), the people coming from Judea were appropriately called "Jews."
There is a spiritual reason why, of all the tribes, the name Judah persevered. The name Judah was chosen by Leah because Judah is related to the Hebrew word hoda'a, which means "thanks." At the core of Judaism is the quality of gratitude. To be a Jew literally means to be a person of gratitude - constantly aware and thankful for the blessings in our lives.
In this week's Haftorah, David was on his deathbed, paralleling the scene of Jacob on his deathbed in the Torah reading. Like Jacob, David passed down his final words to his son. Among the directions that David shared with his son Solomon was this command: "But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom."
When David experienced perhaps the most excruciating episode of his life - a rebellion against him led by his very own son, Absalom - Barzillai stood by his side. Many of David's "friends" and "followers" deserted him, but Barzillai, a wealthy, yet elderly man, stood by the side of his king in loyalty and provided for his needs. As one of David's last lessons to his son, David taught Solomon about the importance of everlasting gratitude. Even the descendants of Barzillai were to be welcome guests at the king's table for years to come.
We are so quick to remember the bad things that people did to us and to forget the good that they did. But King David is teaching us all that we must remember the good that people have done for us forever! The people who have helped us in our lives must always have a place at our table.
Take a moment today and think about all the people who have helped you in life - parents, teachers, relatives, or friends. Be grateful; perhaps even express your gratitude to some of those people today. When we get in the habit of remembering and feeling grateful for the people in our lives, then we will be one step closer to being constantly thankful to God, the Source of all goodness in our lives. As we are grateful, so will we be blessed.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President