Chayei Sarah – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

The Sedra this week, Chayei Sarah, “The life of Sarah”, begins with her death. It continues with the five words:

וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ:
Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her

Followed immediately by

וַיָּ֨קָם֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֣י מֵת֑וֹ
And Abraham rose from his grief

There was much that needed to be done. The purchase of the Cave of Machpeleh, the oldest of Jewish sites, would cement our relationship to the Land. The search for a wife for Isaac would look for Jewish continuity. Abraham instructs his servant (not named but known as Eliezer), as follows

לֹֽא־תִקַּ֤ח אִשָּׁה֙ לִבְנִ֔י מִבְּנוֹת֙ הַכְּנַֽעֲנִ֔י
you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites

Rebecca, the first of the three women discovered by a well (the others will be Rachel and Zipporah, the wife of Moses) will go on to become not just one of our “mothers” but a key figure in ensuring our continuity: as a people committed to the covenant with Abraham.

The two components of that covenant, the Land and the promise of many descendants, required action. We are mortal and our time on earth is limited. A major part of Judaism is that God expects us to act.

Isaac is almost an aside in this Sedra. When Rebecca meets Isaac we read

Isaac was on his way, coming from Be'er Lachai Ro'i, and he dwelt in the land of the south.

Be’er-laĥai-ro’i, the place from which Isaac was coming when Rebecca saw him, is mentioned once before in Bereishit.

It was where Hagar had fled. There is a Midrash that Isaac was seeking out Hagar and Ishmael to make peace. It would be as brothers together that would bury Abraham. Making peace also requires action.

וַיִּגְוַ֨ע וַיָּ֧מָת אַבְרָהָ֛ם בְּשֵׂיבָ֥ה טוֹבָ֖ה זָקֵ֣ן וְשָׂבֵ֑עַ
And Abraham expired and died in a good old age, old and satisfied

Rabbi Tarfon is quoted as saying

It is not for you to complete the work but neither are you free to desist from it

All that is required of us is to make a beginning and pass on the baton.

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