What it takes to keep your marriage going for 65 years
RABBI DAVID BENJAMIN FAINSILBER
DECEMBER 29, 2017 // 12 TEVET 5778
65TH ANNIVERSARY OF DR. GRETCHEN ROUS BESSER & AL BESSER
Al and Gretchen,
I wish to dedicate these words to you
on this most holy and awesome 65th anniversary of your marriage.
This week’s parashah, Va-ye-chi,
is one of life.
Named from its root, chai, life,
we come to the close of Jacob’s length of days,
his life full of vitality.
וַיְחִ֤י יַעֲקֹב֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם שְׁבַ֥ע עֶשְׂרֵ֖ה שָׁנָ֑ה
“Jacob lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt,
וַיְהִ֤י יְמֵֽי־יַעֲקֹב֙ שְׁנֵ֣י חַיָּ֔יו שֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֔ים וְאַרְבָּעִ֥ים וּמְאַ֖ת שָׁנָֽה׃
so that the span of Jacob’s life came to one hundred and forty-seven years.”
We are left wondering what he must have felt like at no less than 147,
at no less than the summation of his life and legacy.
What was he reflecting on in these remaining days?
We know from the stories spanning almost half of Bereisheet/Genesis
that his was not an easy life:
A life of conflicting messages from his parents,
most beloved of his mother Rebecca, but not his father Isaac;
A dangerously tense and fraught relationship with his brother Esau;
A life of hard work in order to come to marry
a woman he did not love, Leah;
and then to marry Rachel, the love of his life,
only to then face years of infertility;
A fateful night wrestling with a man-angel, lying wounded and blessed;
A beloved child Joseph torn from him, far too young, thought dead.
And yet, in the twilight of his life
he comes to witness his beloved son
sitting by the throne of the most powerful man,
and the reconciliation of the once strained relationship of his children,
Jacob lived a full and complete life of equal part trials and triumphs.
In that twilight of his life,
Jacob chooses to spend those precious moments
blessing his children,
each child not only the essence of his being, his own progeny,
but also representing the tribes,
the future of our people, his genetic and spiritual perpetuity.
He blesses each one with great gusto and passion.
He blesses them with ancient metaphors,
likening many to wild animals.
“Isaachar is a strong-boned ass / crouching among the sheepfolds” 49:14
“Judah is a lion’s whelp” 49:9
“Naphtali is a hind let loose / Which yields lovely fawns” 49:21
“Joseph is a wild ass” 49:22
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf” 49:27
And though no bulldogs are mentioned,
the sentiment is the same:
Jacob’s children shall be independent.
They shall not back down from the pursuit of what is right and just;
and each of his children shall be powerful in their own right.
He also blesses Joseph’s sons Efrayim and Menashe:
וַיְבָ֥רֶךְ אֶת־יוֹסֵ֖ף וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הָֽאֱלֹהִ֡ים
אֲשֶׁר֩ הִתְהַלְּכ֨וּ אֲבֹתַ֤י לְפָנָיו֙ אַבְרָהָ֣ם וְיִצְחָ֔ק
‘The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ הָרֹעֶ֣ה אֹתִ֔י מֵעוֹדִ֖י עַד־הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃
The God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day—
הַמַּלְאָךְ֩ הַגֹּאֵ֨ל אֹתִ֜י מִכָּל־רָ֗ע
The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm and evil—
Bless these children.
וְיִקָּרֵ֤א בָהֶם֙ שְׁמִ֔י
וְשֵׁ֥ם אֲבֹתַ֖י אַבְרָהָ֣ם וְיִצְחָ֑ק
וְיִדְגּ֥וּ לָרֹ֖ב בְּקֶ֥רֶב הָאָֽרֶץ׃
In them may my name be recalled,
And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
And may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth.'”
Here Jacob recalls in this blessing
how his feet have traversed spaces
that were once blessed by his own ancestors,
once blessed by the G-d that took Abraham and Isaac under G-d’s wing.
Jacob recalls that each moment in his own journey has been a blessing,
and how G-d has guided and shepherded him at each step.
And he does not shy away from acknowledging
that there were difficult and dangerous steps along the way,
yet he feels not consternation but instead gratitude —
for there have been holy angels
carefully guiding all harm away from him.
And though his life was not always simple or wholly privileged,
his life was made whole by G-d’s blessing.
Gretchen and Al,
as we mark your 65th Anniversary,
we celebrate the life you continue to lead as one chock full of life,
a life that marks the very essence of this parashah: Vayechi, life.
Your congregation and community looks in awe
at the beautiful, intelligent, righteous, warm-hearted people you are.
And we all wish for a legacy as great as the one you have created together.
Both of you individually and together are full of heart and intelligence.
Like Jacob, you have a gift of holding the proper balance:
The gift of vision to look back at the blessings bestowed on you,
without avoiding facing the challenges that have been.
The gift of looking back in admiration for a life long-lived,
yet still living your lives to the fullest each day.
The gift of pride at what you have together —
what you have accomplished,
the children you have reared
and the community built —
yet also seeing that everything you have
has been given to you from
a G-d that has shepherded and guided you from harm.
May your names continue to be uplifted in your children
and in all those generations within your community
that are proud to call you: our elders.
And may your shared love for each other be a reminder
to all those who seek to cultivate love in their lives.
May you count each day, count each moment, with love.
So, a final blessing:
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְיָ וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ.
May G-d bless you and keep you safe.
יָאֵר יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ.
May G-d’s face shine upon you and be with grace.
יִשָׂא יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם.
May G-d’s lift up your worries and grant you peace and wholeness.
Kein Yehi Ratzon. Amen.