Parashah Chayei Sarah: Coming Together as Family

Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1−25:18

D'Var Torah By: Scott Rubenstein

Shabbat Shalom, NFTY-Southwest and Temple Chai!

This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, is a portion I just can’t seem to get away from. As I mentioned earlier, this was my bar mitzvah portion.

There are many events in this portion. Sarah dies. Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac, and find one he does in Rebekah. Abraham takes another wife himself, named Keturah. She is little known in the Torah but they have six kids together. Finally, Abraham dies. There are many scholarly teachings and rabbinical commentaries on the many themes present in this portion. But guess who I decided to consult? 13 year old me. Me, of 2009.

I decided to dig up my old D’var from my Bar Mitzvah. What was important to me back then? What struck me as noteworthy in this portion? Would I still agree with myself four years later?

It turns out that I wrote about Isaac and Ishmael, about how when their father Abraham passed away at the end of the portion, they were able to put aside their differences and come together to bury their father and live in harmony.

During Scott’s presentation, the question was asked, “What makes a place a beautiful place to pray?” Respondents used their cellphones to create a live word cloud of their answers.

What was the conclusion Bar Mitzvah me came to? That “they were brothers, and they should be able to settle their differences and live peacefully because family is family, and they should always be there for one another.” Family was very important to me back then, and it still is now. It really struck me that these brothers were able to be this mature and be able to put aside their differences. And trust me, they had some real beef.

Family is very important, and their main function is to be the people that we travel on our quests of life with. Think about it. We are each on our own individual quest of life. But we aren’t traveling alone. Who do we have journeying along with us, each on a quest of life that is tightly intertwined with ours? That’s right, our family.

The word “family” means different things to different people. Of course, we all first think of our nuclear family-our parents and siblings. We have extended family, like grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but beyond that, the people who we define as our family become little bit more ambiguous.

We all have friends who we would call our family. They are always there for us, and just like Isaac and Ishmael, they can put aside differences when it matters most. At the time of my Bar Mitzvah, I didn’t seem to have this kind of “family,” and the rest of my D’var focused more on my actual relatives. So what has changed for me since my Bar Mitzvah? Well, for starters, I joined NFTY.

My Jewish journey and my life journey forever changed for the better when I joined NFTY. Suddenly, I had another family. I had this tight-knit group from all over Arizona, New Mexico, Las Vegas, and El Paso. We all come from different backgrounds, and are on different quests as you might say, but for some reason, all of our quests of life decided to cross paths here.

Look around you, NFTYites. For some of us, this is our first event, for some, this is our 16th event. Regardless, all of our life journeys have crossed paths for this weekend, right here at Temple Chai in Phoenix, Arizona. Why were were all thrown together like this, coming from four different states and even more different backgrounds? First and foremost: Because we are all Jewish.

What can these people do for you? What can you do for these people? I am proud to say that my NFTY family has extended beyond the borders of our region, and I have had the privilege of becoming acquainted with NFTYites from all of NFTY’s 19 regions and 39 different states, and 4 countries.

Throughout this weekend we have been talking about “Jewish journeys.” What makes a journey a uniquely Jewish one? The fact that we are on this journey with other Jews. So we are all at this unique moment in our Jewish journeys, a NFTY event. Our quests of life have crossed paths this weekend for a reason. What is that reason?

Look around again. These people just might become another family. And just like Isaac and Ishmael, they just might be there when we need them most. Shabbat Shalom.

Scott Rubenstein is the NFTY-SW Religious and Cultural Vice-President.

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