Chayai Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18) The Dignity in Age

One of the gates to the old city of Jerusalem (Steve Lubetkin Photo/Israel201111-207. Used by permission)
One of the gates to the old city of Jerusalem (Steve Lubetkin Photo/Israel201111-207. Used by permission)

Chayai Sarah presents us with another intense portion. Isaac secures a wife (24) and there are passages as he sets out to establish his identity. We also are confronted with the deaths of both Sarah and Abraham. The  deaths are handled differently in a way. Sarah dies (and commentaries abound on the reasons, after all, it comes right on the heels of the Akedah) and there is the negotiation by Abrhama for the burial cave. (23). In 25 we read of Abraham’s death. At his funeral both Isaac and Ishmael appear. They are not mentioned at Sarah’s burial. Two brothers, estranged, come back together to pay respects, a theme that we will meet again very soon (Jacob/Esau).

A lesson emerges, among many, from the verses on the deaths of Sarah and Abraham. In 23, the word for years, is repeated several times. There is a Rashi comment that seems to indicate that the repetition denotes that her years were good. There are special moments in our lives during the span of years that mean more and that stand out as we live, but, people who are righteous “find fulfillment if all their days”. This is a challenge for many of our generation (and others) during this pandemic. It is a challenge to find a sense of fulfillment when we see and experience the fact taht we are loosing time, time that we can never get back.

So then we can turn in this portion to 25 and the death of Abraham. The text accounts that he died”old and contented” (25:8) A Midrash teaches that one may have the “dignity of age without its years, or length of days without the dignity of age”. In the case of Abraham, as the Plaut commentary says, “Here , however, the dignity of old age was matched by length of days, and a long life was matched by the dignity of age” (Plaut. 169)

For us, especially now, the portion’s discusion of the deaths of Abraham and Sarah can provide us with a menaingful message. We are challenged to see fulfillment is each of our days now. It is difficult for some, shut in and isolated, to find a sense of fulfillment and meaning. Time is passing. But again, what is in between the lines of these passages is the challenge that the text gives us to find our own sense of fulfillment and meaning in this current situation. It may begin with the ability  or opportunity for each of us to assess how best we can bring a sense of meaning or fulfillment to our lives now. In essence I suggest it is the traditional call to not give in to fear and emotional or spiritual isolation. We are blessed to live in a time that technology allows us to “be” anywhere we wish. We are part of a tradition that looks outward to a tomorrow. We cannot control the years we have, yet we can control what we put into those years. This new reality remains an opportunity for self awareness and always the ability to evolve and grow and learn. In that way we respond to the lives of Sarah and Abraham to seek a life of fulfillment and dignity.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Richard F Address

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