This week’s portion minces no words. It cuts to the chase in the very first verses. Genesis 23:1,2: “Sarah lived to be 127 years old–such was the span of Sarah’s life. Sarah died in Kiryat Arbah….” Sarah dies immediately after the section on the binding of Isaac. Was is the trauma of learning what her husband had done too much for her to bear? The text is silent. The Midrash is explosive in a variety of interpretations. What we can also take from this is that severe trauma can kill a spirit and soul. Some of us know of people who have experienced major life trauma, trauma that leaves them, if not literally dead, then certainly dead of spirit. It is curious in that immediately following this section on binding, Sarah dies and Isaac is not heard from…even in Genesis 24, when Abraham sends his servant to the old country to find Isaac a wife. Silence!
There is another section of this portion, often overlooked due to the discussion over Sarah and the long chapter on the acquisition of Rebecca for Isaac. In Genesis 25:7-11, we read of Abraham’s death. Lo and behold, Isaac is joined by his brother Ishmael at the funeral. Neither are mentioned, by the way, attending Sarah’s! All of a sudden, after all that had transpired in the family, these estranged brothers come together to bury their dad. A touch of reality?
This scenario is all to real for some families. Estranged family members, out of duty or love or perhaps obligation, will come together for that life cycle event, often a funeral. They attend, and then often go their ways alone. It is as if they say that we cannot ever be together, too much has transpired. But, we owe this person our life. Many clergy have officiated at such funerals. The opportunity for reconciliation is played out in a few cases in Tanach. Often there is peace and a reuniting of people. Sometimes, as with Jacob and Esau, they come together and agree to, well, not kill each other, and are content to move on with their lives. Sometimes, like in this portion, the past hurts are too deep. Once again the text reflects real life. Despite our best of intentions, hopes and desires, the past remains too much to overcome. Isaac and Ishamel bury their dad, go their distinct and separate ways….and the rest is history!
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.