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.

Sabina Lyon-Freedman's Bat Mitzvah

facebook_sabinalyonfreedmanMy name is Sabina Lyon-Freedman, and I’m in the 7th grade at Roosevelt Middle School. I enjoy playing violin, baking, acting, reading, watching movies, writing novels and poems, spending time with friends (including some of my best friends at Beth Sholom), and petting my cat, Buster.

For my bat mitzvah this coming Shabbat, I will be chanting part of Parashat Vayeira. It is a very busy and important parsha. Abraham and Sarah are told that Sarah will bear a son. Abraham challenges God's plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaac is born, and, in response to Sarah's demand, Abraham banishes Hagar and Ishmael. God then tests Abraham's devotion by commanding him to sacrifice his beloved Isaac. I will be focusing in my d’var Torah on the section where Lot makes the problematic decision to offer his daughters to the men of Sodom in order to save his guests.

For my mitzvah project, I am playing violin for residents of the Rhoda Goldman Plaza, where my grandpa lives.

I am grateful to my family and friends. And I’m especially happy that members of my family will be coming from Maine, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Canada, Peru, Israel, and many other places to share this special moment with me. I would like to thank my tutor, Marilyn Heiss, for teaching me how to chant Torah and lead the service. I’ll miss the fun times with her. I want to thank Rabbi Glazer for helping me write my d’var Torah. And I want to thank my cat Buster for being soft and cuddly.

Lech Lecha — Genesis 12:1-17:27

facebook_coverdesign_lechlechaWe move from the displacement associated with the Tower of Babel at the end of last week’s reading to even deeper displacement this week as the Torah introduces us to the journey of Abram and Sarai.

Their leaving home can be thought of as the setting of a tripwire, a process of setting in motion dramatic change. The challenge of starting out on a new venture — which is not limited to physical relocation — is perennial. We are constantly setting the tripwire of change; nothing in life is permanent.

Little surprise then that the Hebrew Bible has no sense of place permanence – the ancestral house or furniture can not be assumed. Instead of such a legacy, God commands Abram to take leave — "Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and from your patrimony and go to the land which I will show you." (Genesis 12:1).

With a Promised Land in the offing, along with the promise that Abram and his life partner, Sarai, will become a great nation, they depart. Leaving everything behind, they journey to the land of Canaan along with their nephew Lot. As the narrative continues, take note of how the accepted Near Eastern context of polytheism (multiple divinities ruling the world) shifts toward henotheism (many divinities in a pantheon ruled by a supernal deity) and eventually embraces a full-fledged monotheism (a singular divinity ruling the world).

Facing a famine, Abram and Sarai detour to Egypt, where she is taken captive in Pharaoh’s palace. Her escape is only possible through deception; Abram and Sarai disguise themselves as brother and sister, which eventually leads to release and compensation. Once back in Canaan, Lot separates from Abram to settle in Sodom. He is captured by the armies of King Chedorlamomer, which forces Abram to set out to rescue his nephew. In defeating the four opposing regional rulers, Abram is eventually blessed by the King of Salem, Malki Zedek, in the powerful language of henotheism: "Blessed be Abram in the name of the most Supernal God [El Elyon], maker of heaven and earth." (Genesis 14:19) As one of many exemplary non-Jewish figures in the Hebrew Bible (including Jethro and Rahav), it is Malki Zedek who blesses this emerging Jewish leader and his mission of bringing divine awareness into daily life.

Upon completing the "covenant between the pieces" that envisions exile and redemption to the Holy Land, further transformations take place. The next covenant, this one of circumcision, is enacted by Abraham upon himself and his son, Isaac, while Hagar is banished with Ishmael. In leaving home and beginning this new venture that comes to be known as Judaism, Abram becomes Abraham ("father of multitudes") and Sarai becomes Sarah ("princess"). And so the journey continues...

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by the vision Abram had following his defeat of King Chedorlaomer. "After these incidents, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, 'Fear not, Abram; I am your Shield; your reward is exceedingly great.'" (Genesis 15:1) Here, we see a shield form on a yellow field. The shape of the shield and its markings – at once ocular and solar – are based on designs archaeologists associate with ancient Mesopotamia. 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]