Our Torah portion for this Shabbat open with the powerful words that Sarah has died. Why? The text is quiet. Perhpas, as many surmize, the impact of the Akedah, in Gensis 22 , was too much. Perhpas she died of a broken heart having to deal with the reality of Abraham and Isaac’s trek up the mountain, a test undertaken without her knowledge! But Sarah dies in the opening lines of Genesis 23. Abraham mourns, arranges for her burial and then must confront a major challenge for him in his culture. He is alone, aware, perhaps of his own aging, as a commentary in the “Etz Hayim” Torah commentary suggest. His first job is to find a wife for Isaac. This he accomplishes in a majestic story in Genesis 24. This story, one of the most famous in Torah, concludes with the union of Isaac and Rebeccah and the very interesting line that “Isaac then brought her (Rebeccah) into the tent of his mother, and he took Rebeccah as his wife, Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death. Wow! The Torah is so profound. Love came after they were together. And look at the role of Sarah; as if the presence of Isaac’s mother hovered and impacted this relationships. The boy becomes a man and marries a woman who stands for his mother!
And then, immediately as Genesis 25 begins, Abraham takes a wife. His job of finding a wife for Isaac completed, he can settle in to his advanced years comforted by someone. He will not be alone. This scenario, of course, is not just a nice Biblical story. The life stage of a man or woman who finds themself alone after years of marriage, and searches for comfort and companionship, is a scenario with which many are quite familiar. Adult children often have an issue with mom or dad re-entering the dating world, even entering in to a long term relationship. That transition can be difficult. In the development of our Sacred Aging project, we were honored to have been sent several examples of rituals that were created, and used, by people who, after the year of mourning for a spouse had been completed, asked that a ritual be created so that they could transition back into life by removing their wedding ring. This is not for everyone and, when we do a workshop on new rituals, this one always brings forth some interesting debate. But, the intent, again not for everyone, is that for some people, a ritual, done in their synagogue, allows them to move on with their life wth the support and understanding of their community.
What would such a ritual contain? Here is a brief excerpt of such a ritual used by a colleague for one of his members:
With the removal of this ring I acknowledge again
That I am losing your companionship.
But the memories and love will always remain
Dear to my heart.
May they continue as an inspiration to me
And to those you touched.
May they remain a blessing,
And may we always praise God
For the gifts of life and patience,
And for the righteous judgements made.
God asks that we walk in the way of Torah,
May that continue to be my will.*
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min
* excerpted from “To Honor and Respect” (URJ Press. p.69,70)