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Parashat Chayei Sara 5784November 11⎮27 Cheshvan

11/10/2023 09:01:08 AM


LL Giordano

In Chayei Sarah (“The Life of Sarah”), Sarah dies at the age of 127. Searching for an appropriate place for her burial, Abraham purchases the Cave of Machpelah. There she is laid to rest. Abraham searches as well for a wife for Isaac, his son. He sends a servant. Eliezer, to fulfill this task. The servant encounters Rebecca at a well and Rebecca gives water to the servant and his camels. Eliezer returns with Rebecca and she and Isaac marry. Abraham marries as well and his wife, Keturah, bears six sons. Abraham dies at the age of 175. Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father in the cave of Machpelah.

This parsha is bookended by tales of grief (Sarah's death at the beginning and Abraham's death at its end). And, we might infer, by stories of people stepping up to do the right thing (in this case, honoring the dead) despite complicated and even negative feelings. Read more

Sarah's death occurs at the beginning of Parashat Chayei Sara and this parsha immediately follows the parsha which includes the binding of Isaac. On the basis of their continguity, Rashi concludes that Sarah's death was a direct result of her hearing about Abraham's intended sacrifice of their son. So shocked or angry was Sarah that her soul fled her body. Yet, as Rabbi Deena Cowans muses, even as Sarah died overwhelmed with anger at Abraham, Abraham buries her. 

So, too, Ishmael returns to bury his father despite the fact that Abraham banished him to the desert with insufficient food and water. And Isaac honors his father despite the troubled memory of his own near-death at his father's hands. Moreover, Ishmael and Isaac honor their father together despite the asymmetry in their positions with respect to their patriarch. Rabbi Deena suggests that we might imagine Ishmael and Isaac coming together, if only for one brief moment; leaning on one another and standing witness to each other's grief.

We too, in our time, are grief-stricken over the dead of Israel and Palestine. It is difficult to imagine relationships more historically complex than that between Israelis and Palestinians. No less complicated is the entanglement of American Jewish identity with that of Israel. My hope for us in this moment is that we can allow ourselves to feel our grief in all its complexity, honoring those who have died while not losing sight of the Jewish commitment to the sacredness of life. We honor those who have died because we owe them the same respect that is owed to the living.

Tue, June 18 2024 12 Sivan 5784