Torah Reflections – Oct. 20 – 26th, 2013

Chayei Sarah

Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

Where Life Hangs by a Thread                            

The cry of the shofar is the tears of Sarah, says a midrash.  This midrash comes to fill-in the blank space between the end of last week’s Torah portion and the beginning of this week’s. It describes Sarah being told that Abraham had taken her son Isaac, and had slaughtered him; offering him up on an altar as a sacrifice: “Sarah began to cry and moan the sounds of three wails that are the three blasts of the shofar. And her soul burst forth from her and she died.” Thus begins our weekly reading: with Sarah’s sudden death.

I found an arresting footnote in the Etz Chayim Chumash (Torah book) on this first verse; a statement attributed to commentator Avivah Zornberg. Sarah’s death, according to the note, “is a reflection of her inability to live in a world as dangerous and unreliable as she has found this world to be, a world where life hangs by such a fragile thread.” Zornberg’s statement is one of existential nature par excellence. It points to this fragile place within us that seems to require that there be meaning, predictability and safety in our life. Sarah, faced with such dreadful fate, is robbed of all three all at once, and finds herself unable to sustain such a loss. The emotional pain is so unbearable that “her soul burst out forth from her.”

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Torah Reflections: November 13 – November 19, 2011

Parashah (portion) Chayei Sarah – The Legacy of Isaac and Ishmael
Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

Foreword: Since I will be in Israel for the next couple of weeks and won’t be able to write my weekly Torah Reflections, I thought you would have enough time to read a slightly longer piece this time. This was originally an article I wrote for the Seattle Jewish Transcript newspaper which you can still find in its online version here.

A surprising turn of events happens in this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah. We read:

Abraham breathed his last and died in good ripe age, old and satisfied, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah… [Gen. 25:8-9]

What are Isaac and Ishmael doing here together? This is the first we hear of them since each of their traumatic experiences at the hand of their father. Some seventy-three years earlier–as far as Ishmael is concerned–Abraham attempted to kill him by casting him and his mother out to die in the wilderness. He and his father had remained estranged ever since. The same holds true for Isaac after the Akedah, his binding and near sacrifice. Despite the fact that an angel intervenedin the last momentto stay Abraham’s hand, Isaac saw that his father was ready and willing to sacrifice him. Arguably, from Isaac’s perspective the angelic intervention didn’t make a difference. Even though the blade of the sacrificial knife never touches him, it may as well have, as their father-son relationship was severed for good. Isaac does not come down from Mount Moriah with Abraham; in fact, there is no record of the two having contact ever again.

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Torah Reflections: October 24-30, 2010

Parashah (portion) Chayei Sarah -Seeing Through the Veil of the Mind
Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

This week brings us to the second value our community selected to practice more deeply this year, the second midah, on our list of twelve: the value of silence. This week also brings us to the close of Abraham and Sarah’s journey as we read about their deaths in the verses of our weekly Torah portion. But as the story of one couple comes to an end; that of another couple –Isaac and Rebeccah — begins.

After Sarah’s death, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac. The servant is to travel back to Haran, the place Abraham had left to journey to Canaan at God’s instruction. There, he is to find a spouse from Abraham’s tribe. Abraham describes to his servant the exact series of events that he will need to witness for him to know that he has found that special wife. This story is recounted two more times in our portion, once when the servant finds Rebeccah as Abraham predicted, and once more when the servant re-tells that story to Rebeccah’s family.
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