Chaye Sarah

by | Oct 10, 2013 | Torah Thought

The title of the parasha, Chaye Sarah, “Sarah’s Life,” is the one where in fact and ironically, both Sarah and Abraham die. How telling of the biblical and Jewish spirit that Sarah’s name is bestowed upon a Torah portion, which includes not only mention of her death, but also that of husband Abraham in the context of a patriarchal society.

Moreover, the parasha’s designated title connotes life and not death. Thus teaching us that the drama of human life with its ups and downs, strivings and shortcomings, outweighs the unavoidable reality of the cessation of the body’s function, but not of its divine spirit that continues to impact the land of the living. And what a life did Sarah and Abraham, the founders of the Jewish saga, share! Venturing into the unknown from their native and familiar surroundings of family, faith, culture and landscape they were willing to risk all that they had for the sake of a transforming and risky divine call.

Soon enough they found themselves in the midst of a familial conflict threatening to undo their very bond. Barren and jealous, Sarah empowered by a woman’s intuition, saw in Hagar and more so in Ishmael, potential and potent rivals as well as contenders (how insightful!) for God’s spiritual mandate and promise, with Abraham struggling, no doubt, to comprehend the complex dynamics engulfing him. If that was not sufficiently unsettling and unnerving, Isaac’s near sacrifice surely demanded whatever resilient energy was left in Abraham and Sarah who faced dangers not only from within, but also from without, trying to establish their new presence in a new land. Midrash in fact instructs us that Sarah, whose name is omitted from the ordeal of the traumatic Akeda (Isaac’s Binding), died believing that Isaac was sacrificed.

Significant it is that the parasha dedicated in Sarah’s honor shares the good news of Isaac, the survivor of Mt. Moriah from which he never fully recovered, finding a suitable soul-mate in Rebecca whose kindness to humans and animals as well as proper family pedigree, allowed her to become our second matriarch. Quite intriguing, following Sarah’s death, Abraham remarried and fathered six (!) more children, who are lost to us, with wife Ketura who has a kibbutz named for her in Israel’s Negev. Reassuring for future full reconciliation between the descendents of Isaac and Ishmael, who have paid such a high price for their ancestors’ rivalry and competition, is the coming together of the two to bury their father Abraham.

—Rabbi Israel Zoberman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Chaverim.