Agnes Williams

  City of Birth:
New Orleans

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My Entire Life
Life in the South (1950-2007)
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Agnes's Story > Chapters > My Entire Life

"Legacy " 


Date Range: 09/28/1942 To 08/29/2007   Comments: 0   Views: 4,307
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My sister gave this to me several years ago. I have read this over and over and I keep a copy of it in my desk to look at whenever I start to think "I"m old" or that the best years of my life have already passed me by. I don't want to go gently into that good night: I want to rage against that dying light. But after I re-read this, dog-eared and worn, I think of my family and friends and am comforted.

When I was younger-I can't remember exactly when-my grandmother gave me a gift. It was fairly simple gift, but it had great meaning. It was a tiny gold charm in the shape of a capital "B". It was slightly misshapen- as if it had been attached to something else. In fact, it had. In its original form, there were two "B's" soldered together to make one larger tie tack. The two "B's" were my grandfather's initials: Bernard Bergman. My grandmother, years after my grandfather's death, had divided this tie tack to make a tangible piece of him available to my sister and me. This tiny charm means a lot to me. It is a physical symbol of my grandfather's legacy.

As many of you know, I am named after this man. His full name is Bernard Alfred Bergman, making his initials B.A.B., the same as mine. For all of you who wonder what the "B" in my name stands for, it's Beth. That I carry his name is a spiritual legacy, as I find strength and connection from who he was and what mattered to him.

The legacies that are left to us often take on two forms: spiritual and material. They are often equally as powerful, as in the case of my grandfather. This message is also particularly clear in our Torah portion this evening. We enter the narrative as Jacob enters the last phase of his life. While weak, Jacob musters enough strength to ask Joseph, his son, to bring his grandchildren to him so that he may bless them. In these phrases we see Jacob touching each of his grandsons and sons for the last time. I can only imagine how his poetic last words, and gentle touch might remain with his children for the rest of their lives. I believe these actions are the legacy that he offers his family.

We can learn about Jacob's spiritual and material gifts by studying more closely the first two verses of our portion, which read: "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years and so the entire age of Jacob was 147 years. And the time drew near for Israel to die." In order to understand these verses, we must first unpack them: Why is that the first verse talks about Jacob's life, and the next Israel's death? Why are two different names used for the same person?

You may remember, a number of chapters earlier, Jacob struggled with a Divine Messenger. At the end of the conflict, he is spiritually reconnected. In fact, for his effort, Jacob was renamed Israel, which means one who struggles with God. Rabbi Bechaye, in his commentary on this portion, believes that the use of the name Jacob in this portion, because it is related to the Hebrew word "ekev ", or heel, refers to the human aspects of his life. Secondly, remembering that the name Israel means one who struggles with God leads us to make a natural connection with the spiritual facet of Jacob. The two names were used, because both sides of Jacob were present as he bestowed the final blessings upon his family.

Both the physical and spiritual aspects of Jacob and Israel are present during this poignant time in the life of Jacob and his family, as Jacob blesses his grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe. Jacob says; "God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long until this day, the angel who redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads, and let my name be named upon them and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." In this blessing, both the spiritual, and material are present in the form of God's protection the promise of progeny.

Jacob had the opportunity to bestow a gift upon his family: his thoughts, desires, and blessings. As Jacob blessed his family, we too can bless our loved ones through careful articulation of our wishes, blessings, and lessons for them.

A number of years ago, Rabbi Jack Riemer published a book called So That Your Values Live On- Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them. An ethical will is a document that imparts your values, ethics, and life lessons that you'd like to offer to your loved ones; and often discusses the meaning of material possessions. It's a tangible document that testifies to the intangible.

Writing an ethical will reconnects us to our truest selves, and allows us to articulate our hopes, blessings, concerns, and love to our dearest ones. Blu Greenberg, an orthodox feminist writer, writes, " Ethical wills remind us what are the essentials in life; they offer a model of how to live." When we are clear on how we want to live, and we can articulate it to our loved ones, we are truly leaving a gift: a gift for the future. The following is from an ethical will by William Joseph Adelson, included in Jack Riemer's book.

          "My Dearest Family:

          In the busy and often structured pace of our lives there have rarely been times to stand back and reflect upon the big and important things. Our attention has usually been taken by practical details. I want to tell you about what I consider really important.

          I have tried to set an example for you in active participation in the Jewish and secular communities. I have always felt the importance of sharing in these dimensions. It would please me if you found some of the same enthusiasm and excitement in the Jewish tradition that I have. (Or if not in that, I hope that you will participate actively in some spiritual tradition.) It is a dimension of spirit that can bring great meaning and intensity to your lives.

          When I am gone, all of the things I possess will have no meaning to me. Although I have not left you objects of great value, I hope you will want some of the things I have created and that we have accumulated over the years.

          More than material possessions, I hope I will have left each of you;

                    An optimistic spirit
                    A fervor and enthusiasm for life
                    A sensitivity to nature and esthetics
                    A closeness and regard for one another
                    A sense of responsibility and concern for others

                    And a sense of worthwhileness about yourselves.

          I wish your life may be as good and satisfying as mine has been, and thank each of you for having contributed to it. Lovingly, Dad and Bill.

William Joseph Adelson was not near death. Rather, he was contemplating his life and his goals. This powerful letter was written with the objective of enabling him to reconnect with his larger values.

It is significant that this Torah portion is named ` And Jacob lived Vayechi Yaakov", for through both the spiritual and material blessings and lessons he leaves with his progeny, Jacob lives. In the same way that Jacob leaves a gift for the future by blessing on his grandchildren and children, we too have the power to leave a gift: through an ethical will, thoughtful words and careful articulation of our values and desires. This is a gift we can give ourselves, and a gift we offer to our loved ones.

Tonight, I want to close with a very practical challenge: What are the gifts you want to bestow upon your loved ones? Indeed: What is your legacy?


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