Translated, Chayei Sarah means “the life of Sarah.” It’s an odd title for a parashah that opens with Sarah’s death, but even though this parashah doesn’t detail Sarah’s life, it does teach us about the kind of life she lived. Rashi tells us that in Sarah’s 127 years of living, all of her years were equally good. We know that Sarah lived with immense heartbreak, but she still saw the blessings in all of her days. Listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, discuss what it means for all of our years to be equally good.
Three ways to listen:
Welcome to episode 44 of On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah, a podcast presented by ReformJudaism.org Each week we reflect on more than 2000 years of Jewish wisdom in just 10 minutes with modern day commentary on the weekly Torah portion. Of course, we think there are plenty of ways to interpret Torah, and we really do want to hear what you think so talk to us on Twitter. Our handle is @ReformJudaism. Like us at Facebook.com/ReformJudaism, and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.
This week, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, teaches us about Chayei Sarah. He wonders about how you meet the challenges of life, and what values you share with the people that you love most.
This week we focus on Parashat Chayei Sarah. It literally means "the life of Sarah, " but on some very basic level, it's curious because the parashah isn't really about the life of Sarah. It is about her death.
In the opening verses of a parashah, we learn that Sarah dies. She doesn't die at a young age or at a middle age. She dies at a ripe old age. The text tells us she is 127 years old when she passes from this earth. Amazingly, the text tells us, not only that she lived to be 127, but the great master commentator Rashi says that, kulan shavim n'tova, that all of her years were equally good—that literally, throughout her life, she was blessed.
Now we can hear those words and say, oh, that's wonderful, she had such a great life. But it turns out the text in Genesis has told us about heartbreak and disappointment. She wanted for literally decades to have a child and only had a child in her later years. She literally comes from her homeland to a new land, and they have hardship and famine and all kinds of things that we would describe as really, really hard.
But the text tells us there's something remarkable about Sarah because no matter what it was that was happening, she could focus on that which was good. She could see the blessing, even in the difficulty. So as we remember her in this week's parashah—we don't know that there was any formal eulogy given for Sarah, but Rashi's words are a beautiful eulogy, that not only celebrates her life and the length of her days, but the ways she was able to face each and every day with the challenge and with the blessing and always, always to find that which was good.
Now can we each say that our days are equally good, our years have been blessed. I know that some of you listening to the podcast have gone through Job-like pain and loss and challenge. And I'm not asking—the Torah's not asking that we ignore the things that happen, but in the aggregate, can we see our lives as filled with endless blessings even amidst the challenges.
What's remarkable, as soon as Abraham lays his beloved Sarah to rest, he immediately focuses on the lack of a next generation in his family. He looks at his son Isaac, and Isaac does not have a helpmate. Here, Abraham has just buried his beloved life partner, and he looks at his son Isaac and knows that he must have such a partner.
So he looks around. He also says, I don't know where we're going to find a suitable mate. Where are we going to find the right one for Isaac? So he sends his trusted servant, Eliezer, to find the right one. It's an amazing story. The servant says, how will I know, Abraham, when I find the right one for Isaac? And, God bless Abraham, he says, you'll know, there'll be a sign. There'll be some heavenly sign and you will know.
So Eliezer, he's got all the faith in the world. He sets out on that journey, and the third day wakes up. He says, may the one who is to marry my master's wife's son Isaac, may that one appear. And as he said that prayer, lo and behold, there is Rebecca.
Rebecca is one of these individuals who is filled with beauty inside and out, and she is literally, not only gracious to a stranger—she doesn't know who Eliezer is—but expresses those values of chesed, of kindness, and warmth, and of strength. And immediately Eliezer knows this is the right one.
Amazingly, when Abraham sent Eliezer off, he said, don't get a Canaanite. Don't bring back someone who is from some of the different cultures where we are. Bring someone from my homeland. And that's in fact who Rebecca is.
But remember, at that moment, there are no other Jewish people on the planet. So in many ways what Abraham said to Eliezer was not, don't bring my son a person who's not Jewish. He says, bring someone with whom my son can share a life, can share their values, can share all that is noble and good, and someone who will share that path.
I think it's a powerful teaching that we find in our own day that many of us find life partners who are not Jewish, who don't share the same history and ethnicity and background, but become amazing, amazing soulmates, and share the core of what our tradition asks us to do. So in so many ways, Isaac and Rebecca are an example of a couple that come together from different backgrounds and bring, not just their love, their romantic interest in each other, but a deep shared commonality of life and of values.
And so when we think about the parashah, it begins with a funeral. It begins with a burial, but it builds to a wedding. It's like a lot of our lives. Sometimes the sadness and the joy are intermingled. Sometimes, in a family, it can be in the same week, in the same month, in the same year.
That's the mystery. That's the mystery of this journey that we are on. But as we find ourselves on that journey, I ask that maybe we can be the descendants of Sarah, that we can be people that could say upon reflection that all of our years are good and that we, through not only our actions in the public domain, but also in the loving relationships that we create in our lives, that we exemplify that which is most holy, most beautiful, most inspiring, and most fulfilling in our life's journey.
So Chayei Sarah—Sarah lives. She lives in us. She lives in the generations that followed from her and from her inspiring example. Maybe we could, each one, dig down today and be grateful for the many blessings, aware of the many challenges, but never overwhelmed to fail to see the beauty and the possibility and the hope.
Thanks for joining us for this week's episode of On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah. If you liked what you heard today, and we hope you did, you can find new episodes each week at ReformJudaism.org and on iTunes, where we would love for you to rate and review us. And you can visit ReformJudaism.org to learn more about all aspects of Judaism including ritual, culture, holidays, and more.
On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. Until next week, l’hitraot.