When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man . . . ” — 1 Kings 2:1–2
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.
This week’s Torah portion began with Jacob on his deathbed, giving his last words to his sons. This week’s Haftorah begins with King David on his deathbed, giving his last words to his son, Solomon. Interestingly, both men began their “last will and testament” the very same way.
Jacob said, “I am about to be gathered to my people” (Genesis 49:29). David said, “I am about to go the way of all the earth.” In both cases, the children gathered already knew that their father was dying. These words were not intended to be informational; they were meant to be inspirational.
To a child, it seems that life can go on forever. As we get older, we start to understand that at some point, it will end. As we continue to age we start to realize that the end may be closer than we think. And then, if we are lucky enough to get that far, we realize that our end is fast approaching. Our own mortality is a sobering thought, but it is also can be an empowering one.
In the book of Psalms, King David wrote, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). David asked God to help him understand how short life was so that he would have the wisdom regarding how to live each day. He understood that many of the mistakes we make in our lives come about because we don’t appreciate how frail and brief life really is. If we did, we would cherish every moment and make every minute count. Knowing that we will die instructs us on how to live!
This is why both Jacob and David chose to begin their final message to their children with a lesson about death. They basically said, “I am going to die.” The unwritten meaning is “and one day, you will, too.” It was their deepest hope that this message would resonate with their offspring and that the deaths of the fathers would inspire the lives of their sons.
From Jacob and David we can learn to value every moment of our lives and not take even one second for granted. We need to see our days and years as opportunities for greatness. They are ours to take advantage of, or heaven forbid, to waste.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President