Chayai Sarah — Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

Sometimes life demands a certain clinical decisiveness. In last week's reading, this need for decisiveness was exacerbated by the heightened tensions that came to the fore in both sibling and marital rivalries. Sarah saw conflict on the horizon with her handmaiden, Hagar (aka, Keturah), vying for power in the family lineage through her son, Ishmael, so she sized up the future conflict and acted with clinical decisiveness, demanding of Abraham: "Cast out that slave woman and her son, for the son of a slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son, Isaac." (Genesis 21: 10-11). Although Abraham takes Hagar as a wife in order to create progenitors who will carry forward his legacy, Isaac is the only designated heir.

Abraham eventually reaches the ripe age of 175 years. Even though his actions appear to have caused the death of Sarah, in Parashat Chayai Sarah, Abraham is buried beside his beloved in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. Despite all the tensions within family dynamics, matriarch and patriarch are reunited. If only such relief and compatibility could be experienced more fully in life.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts Rebekah. Although the parsha bears the name of another matriarch, Sarah, most of this week's narrative is dedicated to her daughter-in-law. Some biblical scholars argue that Rebekah is the most important female character in all of Torah. Professor Carol Meyers (Duke University) writes that "Rebekah's role as mother of nations looms larger than that of her husband as father of nations.... This fact makes us wonder whether we ought to replace the familiar sequence 'Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob' with a more accurate 'Abraham, Rebekah, and Jacob' in referring to the leading figures of this period of the ancestors." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Chayai Sarah — Genesis 23:1–25:18

facebook_coverdesign_chayaisarahrevisionAre there consequences to our actions? Do our relationships reflect the consequences of our choices?

The choice made last week by Abraham to nearly sacrifice Isaac has profound consequences upon the matriarch, Sarah. The rabbinic exegesis (Pirkai d’Rabbi Eliezer 32) captures this trauma well:

"When Abraham came from Mount Moriah, Samael [Satan] was furious that [Abraham] had failed to realize his lust to abort Abraham’s sacrifice. What did he do? [Satan] went off and told Sarah, 'Ah Sarah, have you not heard what’s been happening in the world?.' She replied, 'No.' [Satan] said, 'Your old husband has taken the boy, Isaac, and sacrificed him as a burnt offering, while the boy cried and wailed in his helplessness. Immediately, she began to cry and wail. She cried three sobs...then she gave up the ghost and died. Abraham came and found her dead, as it is said, 'Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and bewail her.' (Genesis 23:2)"

The wound could not be more fresh within this family. While Abraham may take a new wife, Keturah (Hagar) and father six more sons, Isaac is the only designated heir. Abraham eventually reaches the ripe age of 175 years. Despite the fact that his actions appear to have caused the death of Sarah, he is buried beside his beloved in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. While our parents may inflict us with deep wounds, in the tale of our ancestors, it is beloved children, Isaac and Ishmael, who learn from their past trauma and come together in reconciliation to bury their parents.

The unrealized dreams of our parents often come to fruition, but it takes the patience of time.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by Genesis 24:63 – "And Isaac went forth to pray in the field towards evening, and he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, camels were approaching." To call to mind Isaac's reverie, the camels are depicted as mirage-like forms. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Chayai Sarah -- Genesis 23:1-25:18

800px-Tomb_of_SaraWhat is the mark of a life well lived?

Epicurus (341 – 270 BCE), founder of the Epicurean school of thought, defined a well-lived life as follows:

"It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly. And it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life."

The regnant Jewish wisdom on the life well lived is found in the Hebrew salutation recited at every birthday celebration: "Ad me’ah ve’esrim shanah!," or “May you live to 120 years old!”

Initially, this toast seems to celebrate the length of a life rather than Epicurus' "living wisely and well and justly." But consider the longevity of our three primary patriarchs -- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived 175, 180, and 147 years, respectively (Genesis 25:7, 35:28, 47:28). And the only lifespan we have for a matriarch is that of Sarah, who died at age 127 (Genesis 23:1). In the Hebrew, Sarah's age is written as "120 years and 7 years." The formulation is important because 120, as we see from the familiar birthday greeting, is an honorific number -- it symbolizes a high degree perfection, as well as moral and spiritual elevation. In effect, we are exclaiming, “May you live wisely and well and justly for many years!”

While Abraham may take a new wife, Keturah (Hagar), and father six more sons, Isaac is the only designated heir. Abraham reaches the ripe age of 175 years and is buried beside his beloved, Sarah, in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron.

We are confronted with this perennial question of how to mark a life well lived when Abraham's beloved children Isaac and Ishmael reconcile in order to bury their parents. Abraham and Sarah taught them what a well-lived life is all about through pragmatic wisdom.

-Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: The Mausoleum of Sarah; Photo by C. Raad for the Northern British-Israel Review, January 1911.

Listen to the audio file of this d'var Torah below!
[audio mp3="http://bethsholomsf.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/TorahByte_ParshaChayaiSarah_5776.mp3"][/audio]