Parashah of the week: Chayei Sarah

“And Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave” Genesis 23:19


A torah (Hebrew scripture) reading. The "yod" - a hand-shaped silver pointer - is used by the reader to mark his or her place in the text.

Parashat Chayei Sarah is called “the life of Sarah”, but it deals with her death and its aftermath. Sarah’s death follows immediately after the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, and many commentators link these two events.

One tradition suggests that Sarah was told that Abraham had sacrificed Isaac. Heartbroken at the thought that her beloved son had died at the hands of her husband, she died on the spot.

According to another tradition, she was told what really happened, and that Isaac survived, yet Sarah still died, because she could not bear the agony of living in the threatening and unpredictable world in which she found herself.

After Sarah’s death, Abraham did two unexpected things: after his initial grief, he went out and bought a burial plot. It was a restorative act, showing that the same unpredictable world which caused Sarah such anguish also offers opportunities to bring about the future that God had promised, namely that he would possess the land in which he presently lived as a resident alien (ger v’toshav).

His next action was to send his servant to find a wife for his son. Once again, his action was restorative; not only to secure the future descendants God had promised him, but more importantly because, having just lost his own life’s partner, he knew how his son needed a supportive wife at his side.

The Torah does not dwell much on emotions, and our portion often seems a bit transactional, however we find real tenderness when Rebecca finds Isaac alone in a field towards evening. We cannot begin to imagine the depth of his sorrow on losing his mother, just after the relationship with his father had been ruptured so traumatically.

It seems that Abraham and Isaac could not repair their damaged relationship, the two are not mentioned together again. However, Abraham was able to restore a sense of hope and faith in the future when there was so much anguish and despair. With Rebecca, Isaac found the capacity to love again: “He loved her and he was comforted after his mother’s death” (Genesis 24:67).

Chayei Sarah teaches us to, like Abraham, always look for opportunities to restore our damaged present to make the future a better one, and to never to lose hope even when all else seems dark and hopeless.

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