Dementia (Speech)

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This is my speech on Parshat Vayechi – as delivered in Kehillat Lechu Neranena.

At the opening of this Parsha, we see Yaacov in an incredible state.

His own son needs to be introduced to him. And then one moment he is discussing the future while the next, he seems to relive his wife’s burial.


He is overjoyed at seeing his son; and then he fails to recognize his grandsons.


Yitzchak was blind in his old age, but we have no problem respecting the blind.


Yaacov is suffering from something far more difficult.

Something we like to hide away.

Yaacov seems to be suffering from dementia.


Many of us know those suffering from dementia.

Many of us know those suffering from Alzheimers.

It is hard to imagine people in that state having something to contribute.

We imagine them overwhelmed with a weakness so fundamental to their being that they can have nothing to contribute to the world.


But Yaacov shows us another reality.

When his grandchildren, who have been raised to embrace the future, touch him – he moves from the past, to the future.

During last week’s shiur, Shmuel Yonk defined wisdom as the perspective of experience. Yaacov was wise, but his wisdom was fragmented.

Yosef’s children were not wise, but they were focused on the world beyond themselves.


Somehow, the combination of Yaacov’s wisdom and their focus created something magical.

Somehow, the touch of these children moved Yaacov from a state of fragmented wisdom to a state of prophecy.


And in his state of prophecy, Yaacov sees the end of days.

In the standard interpretation, his vision is then clouded.

When he blesses his sons, he is unable to tell them what is to come.


But perhaps there is another truth.

Perhaps he sees the end of days and then blesses his sons so that it need not come.

Perhaps he sees the horror to come – and through the power of his blessings fortifies his children against the shortcomings that will bring them to that horror.


Perhaps, in his last moments, he changes our world.


This week has been a difficult one for me.

On Wednesday my mother was diagnosed with leukemia.

She was expected to have only a few more weeks to live.

We davened and then, at 3:00 on Friday morning, we learned that she had a cytogenetic abnormality and that effective treatment might be possible.


My mother has a lot in common with Yaacov.

She does not suffer from dementia. But she has lived a long life full of incredible experiences, of tremendous sadness and of fundamental joys.

She has been an inspiration for many, myself included.

G-d willing she will win this bout with illness and continue to inspire those around her.


But last time I checked, human mortality has remained steady at 100%.


At some point, the end will come for all of us.


And this is where Yaacov’s example should fill us with hope.


Because, for as long have our breath, Yaacov shows us that our power still remains.

As long as we have our breath, our words can still change the world.


So my bracha for you is this:

Children, may you find wisdom in the words of those who came before you.

And parents, may you find inspiration in the children who surround you.


May we all be blessed with the complete redemption of our people.

And may we know only joy.


Shabbat Shalom.

For those reading this online, here are a few of my mother’s works.

A River Went Out of Eden (On Amazon): An auto-biographical account of her life in the Idaho Wilderness, ten hours from the nearest town.

Intermezzo (On Amazon): wrapped in a romance novel (a clean one), this is a tribute to Jeremiah, her eldest son how passed away in 1976.

Inungilak (On Amazon): A spy thriller inspired by her time in the Canadian Arctic.

Reflections on the Logic of the Good (On Amazon): Her magnum opus, a metaphysical analysis of our reality

Liberty, G-d’s Gift to Humanity (On Amazon): Her treatise on economics and political freedom

Academic Overture (on A play about two aging academics discussing whether they will have any long-term impact

Pharoah, King of Egypt (on A play about the Exodus, from an Egyptian perspective

Feivel mit’n Fiddle (on A play about the world of her parents and the place of music, stocked with slightly disguised family history


Image: Gelonida, WikiCommons CC 3.0

Joseph Cox Author

Joseph Cox is the author of City on the Heights (, a thriller about creating hope from war.

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