This week’s portion again challenges us in a variety of ways. Chayai Sarah begins with Sarah’s death and commentaries are filled with the discussions as to the reason. A broken heart? Old age? The trauma of the Akedah?Abraham immediately fulfills the mitzvah to bury the dead and negotiates a proper burial. Genesis 24 begins with a very interesting brief verse. We are told that “Abraham was old, (zakain) advanced in years, and God blessed him in all things”.
The death of Sarah and the realization that he is aging lead Abraham to decide that he needed to put things in order and one of the unresolved issues was the fact that Isaac was not yet married. The rest of 24 is this wonderful story of the quest for a bride for Isaac, the meeting of Rebecca at the well and the final scene when the two meet. Pay particular attention to the last verse of 24 and the order of how Isaac and Rebecca evolve their relationship. Interesting issues continue as once the bride has been obtained, Abraham marries again, has several children, and eventually dies. (25:7ff). And notice that at his funeral, Ishmael and Isaac reunite for the funeral. No mention of them was made attending Sarah’s. Like many families, estranged members meet at a life cycle, often a funeral, and then go their separate ways.
This portion speaks to us in so many ways. What does it mean to be blessed? Some commentaries allude to the fact that Abraham was blessed with material wealth. But for us, when we ask ourselves as to our own blessings as we age, how often do we focus on the non-material aspects of life: friends, family, memories, etc. Abraham is also blessed with the ability to be able to move on.
I think that this is an often-overlooked message from this passage. Many of us, at this stage of life, have experienced losses. A challenge often is how do we, or can we move on from these losses. Many seem stuck in a past, unable, or unwilling to see that life moves on. Yet here is Abraham who, following his mourning for his wife, gets up and gets back to living. He had a choice to stay in the past, we all do. But he rose up and moved forward. There is a valuable lesson here. It is a lesson for all of us that life always goes on and that we can honor those we have lost more by taking their memory and life into the future with us. It is for many, difficult and there is NO time frame that fits every person or circumstance. Rituals, community, and friends help. Our tradition, in the form of Abraham, sends us a very personal message. We never forget what was and hold those memories dear, but we, like our Patriarch, move on into life, held, we hope, by love, compassion, the gift of memory and a thirst for life.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.