Parasha / E-Letter

Parashat Chayei Sarah: Bringing Healing

0 Comments 09 November 2017

In her commentary to Parashat Chayei Sarah, Rabbi Miri Gold highlights the good deeds of Isaac and Ishmael in promoting healing within their family, and the importance of exercising our right as a society to choose our leaders wisely. 

Isaac & Ishmael bury Abraham. By illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728

Isaac & Ishmael bury Abraham. By illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728

This Torah portion is about life and death. Ironically, while the title is “the Life of Sarah,” the parasha begins with the death of Sarah at the age of 127 in Hebron. Abraham bought a burial place in the cave of Machpela (“Cave of the Patriarchs”), to make sure that there would be a secure place of rest for Sarah and himself. At the end of the parasha, his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, who had been estranged for many years, bury Abraham in the same cave.

There are those who do not know that Isaac and Ishmael buried their father together.  Perhaps it was because Abraham made sure to share his property and wealth among all his offspring. Perhaps it was because his sons honored their father, long before the 5th of the Ten Commandments demanded that children honor their parents. They of all people knew Abraham’s weaknesses and shortcomings, but they also appreciated his acts of lovingkindness. There are stories that tell us that Abraham married Ketura after Sarah’s death, and that likely she was really Hagar. One midrash even says that it was Isaac who brought her back to his father. How incredible that Isaac could bring such healing.

Most of this parasha is about Abraham’s concern to find a proper wife for Isaac, who at the age of forty, was still single, perhaps still traumatized by the akeda (“binding“) and the fact that when he returned from his near-sacrifice, his mother was already dead.  He never had closure, and he had no warm family life to sustain him.  Abraham wisely decided to set up a shiduch (“match”) with the help of his faithful servant Eliezer, who “found” Rebecca and chose her because she was a kind person with great inner beauty. Isaac did find consolation in the arms of his bride, who was part of Abraham’s family. The Talmud Bavli tells us: “Who is rich? Rabbi Akiva said, He whose wife is comely in deeds.” (Tractate Shabbat 25b).

The Haftara tells the story of Solomon’s succession to his father David. With all the manipulating to assure the proper heir, we know that the plots are such that proper leadership to carry on into the future was utmost in the minds of our ancestors. Often, it is not the eldest who inherits the throne, but the one most worthy.

It should be a relief that in a democracy, the people decide, and not a particular family. For those who have the privilege to vote, it must be remembered that much responsibility goes with the right to vote, and that the leaders must have integrity, not intrigue, as a foremost quality. May we all find the courage to overcome disagreements and divisions, and follow the example of Isaac and Ishmael, who set aside insult and hurt and came together to bury their father.

Rabbi Miri GoldRabbi Miri Gold serves Kehilat Birkat Shalom at Kibbutz Gezer and is a member of Rabbis for Human Rights

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