Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1-25:18

A man mourns for the woman he loved. Though the circumstances of her passing are unknown to the reader, it does not matter. Though we speculate that Sarah died from a broken heart, it does not really matter. We, as members of Abraham and Sarah’s family, mourn Sarah’s death simply because she is gone. That is all we need to know. 

Why do we mourn so? Because we have been captivated by this complex and all-too-human relationship, which has endured such anguish and such joy. We have grown to love these individuals for their folly and their wisdom, for their courage and their chutzpah. We are not ready to let go of this dynamic interaction. It is too soon after the Akedah. We have not recovered sufficiently from the horror of the potential sacrifice of a child at the hands of his own father. We yearn for one more moment of familial contentment to reassure us that all is well with this first family. And, yet, that is not to be. Abraham is left without his beloved Sarah, Isaac is bereft of his mother, and we too bewail the end of this family unit along with the sadness inherent in Abraham’s and Isaac’s great loss. 

We also mourn because we, too, have been mourners in our own lives. We have sat by the bedside and watched a loved one move on. We have held a moist hand, we have dried tears of fear and apprehension, we have wiped a pained brow. We have waited and dreaded and then felt the immense loss when the last breath is exhaled. So, when Abraham confronts what we all have experienced, our hearts go out to him with our open arms as though he might gain comfort in our collective embrace.

The story continues. With a reserve of strength that comes from somewhere deep within, Abraham negotiates a burial place called the cave of Machpelah. Somehow, he knows that this is where Sarah will rest. Somehow, he feels that this is what he must do. With continued courage and resolve, he makes the arrangements and completes the burial ceremony.

So too, have we been tasked with the logistics and details that accompany the loss of a loved one. We have made the phone calls and sent the emails, signed the contracts, ordered the food, written the eulogies, and arisen in the morning for the funeral service. We have found within ourselves that wellspring of energy and strength to do as Abraham has done before us. 

And then, with the passing of time, Abraham and we resume our lives. Abraham sends his son off to locate a suitable bride. We return to thoughts of our own children and their needs and desires. We look around to see what needs to be done for our extended families, friends and community, and reassert ourselves in the world and its ongoing struggles. Like Abraham, we dare not withdraw completely into our grief, for we might never resurface. God wishes us to mourn fully and amply, and then to get on with our lives.

We know this Torah story. We read it every year. And yet, it is as though it were happening for the first time every autumn when we read it once again. That is the gift of Torah: that we discover ourselves and our lives anew with each reading. In this parsha, we see that joy follows after sadness. A beloved son’s wedding will soon ensue. It is the same with our lives; from the bitter comes the sweet. May it always be so.

Rabbi Dr. Susan Schanerman is the spiritual leader of the NefeshSoul community.


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