Chayei Sara: The Dignity of The “Zakein”

Colestown Cemetery, Cherry Hill -- Photographed July 24, 2011 by Shelly Lubetkin. Used by Permission.
Colestown Cemetery, Cherry Hill -- Photographed July 24, 2011 by Shelly Lubetkin. Used by Permission.

As this portion begins in Genesis 23, Sara dies. The Midrash is filled with explanations for her death coming immediately after the passage on the sacrifice/binding of Isaac. A broken heart perhaps? The negotiations regarding her burial-place ensue and finally, she is buried (23:19) in that cave in a service attended by none of her sons. Compare that to Abraham’s funeral (25:9) attended by both Isaac and Ishmael. This portion contains several interesting nuggets; not the least of which is the epic chapter (24) that portrays the getting of a wife for Isaac.
Indeed, one of the telling aspects of Genesis 24 is the first line: “Abraham was now old, advanced in years” (v’Avraham zakein, bah ba’yamim”). There is much said in tradition that until this time, there was no concept of aging. I think, however, this section points out something very meaningful tom any of us. There comes a time when we realize that we have a responsibility to deal with issues that we may have been ignoring or putting off. Look at the context. Abraham’s wife dies and so he now must acquire a burial-place. This brings home his own mortality. He knows he must take care of personal issues so his first act is to send Eliezer to the “old country” to acquire a wife for his son, Isaac. This accomplished, he re-marries and lives the last years of his life in relative peace. “Abraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin” (25:8)
As Boomers begin to confront the reality of being “zakein”, we can also begin to contemplate what that concept means to each of us. Abraham serves as an interesting role model this Shabbat. He knew he needed to take care of personal issues for his family; the securing of a burial-place (in our world, the pre-need conversations) and a wife for his son (securing the legacy of his family). He then was able to find companionship for his later years and find contentment. This idea that we arrive at a stage of life when we desire to complete our legacy and secure our family’s future is something that I am finding to be of growing importance to our generation. In conversations with Boomers in various venues, this issue slowly emerges, usually in the context of discussions about care-giving or end of life issues. Abraham can serve as a model for our own life. He deals with adversity, secures his family’s legacy and takes care of his own needs. The honor and respect due to the “zakein” is, in many ways, obtained by how we choose to see our own autumn and winter of life. It can very well be a time of growth and creativity and empowerment as we seek to bring a sense of wholeness (“shleimut”) to our own lives. Abraham sees to model the concept that our own aging, “to the unlearned is winter, to the learned, it is harvest time”. And we reap what we sow!
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Richard F Address

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