Chayei Sarah – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

The most puzzling aspect of this weeks’ reading, Chayei Sara, is that it purports to record the life of Sarah but starts with her death. In fact, two other deaths end the Sedra; the death of Abraham and the death of Ishmael. The other main players are Rebecca and Hagar.

What do we know about Sarah? She was a devoted wife to Abraham, possibly also his half-sister. (That would go a long way to explaining the deceptions with Pharaoh and Abimelech).

She was a strong personality who recognised the character of her son Isaac as indecisive. She overrides Abraham; sending Hagar and Ishmael away in order to protect his inheritance.

How did Abraham come to terms with her loss? In modern terms we use vague words such as “seeking closure”. The promise of a stake in the land is unfulfilled. Unlike Isaac, who appears as a quiet and passive man rather than an instigator of events, Abraham sets about securing the Cave at Machpelah as a permanent stake in the land. Immediately after the account of his purchase of a burial plot for Sarah, we read:

Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and God had blessed Abraham with everything

But how can that be? The next task is to find a wife for Isaac to secure the future. Rebecca will, in the same way as Sarah, prove to be strong minded and is described as possessing “Hesed”, kindness. She insists on marrying Isaac, defying her parents wish to delay, and later will protect the inheritance of Jacob.

It will be left to Isaac to bring some form of closure. He seeks out Ishmael and both sons would come together to bury Abraham.

We all try to find not just a way forward but also memories. What memories did Sarah leave? This is the woman who laughed when God promised her a child.

We may find the answer in the Eshet Chayil prayer.

לְיוֹם אַחֲרוֹן וַתִּשׂחַק
she laughs at the time to come

Kindness and laughter make some of the best of memories.

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