A Legacy of Good Deeds

Yael Eckstein  |  December 27, 2023

Rabbi Eckstein praying over his daughter while Jerusalem is in the background.

When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people. — Genesis 49:33

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayechi, which means “and he lived,” from Genesis 47:28–50:26.

One year after my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, passed away unexpectedly, I attended a memorial service in his honor. As I watched a short film about his life and accomplishments, I realized that while my father’s soul left this world, he lives on through the legacy that he left behind.

I feel my father’s presence constantly, and I see him everywhere—in the smile of the elderly when I bring them a meal, in the grateful eyes of the needy when I hand them a food box, and in the joy of new immigrants to Israel when I meet them on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport. I see him in the faces of my own children as they carry on our family values and traditions.

My father’s legacy is far greater than his life, and his impact on this world is forever.

A Legacy of Good Deeds

This week’s Torah reading begins with the death of Jacob; however, the very first word of the reading, and the name of the entire portion is Vayechi, which means “and he lived.” Moreover, the Talmud, Judaism’s oral tradition states, “Our father Jacob never died.” This is because according to Jewish tradition, a righteous person never really dies. The righteous live on through a legacy of good deeds and through the people that they positively affected during their lifetimes, including their closest family and friends.

This idea is comforting as it ensures us that our loved ones who have passed on are still with us in many ways. Yet, this teaching should also inspire us to make the most of our own lives.

While we tend to measure life in terms of quantity, we ought to make the true measure according to quality. Some short lives reverberate for generations while other longer lives are as if they were never lived.

As we go through the days and years that God has given us, let’s make them count forever. Let us leave behind a meaningful legacy for generations to come and sow seeds that will bear beautiful fruit long after we are gone.

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