Parashah Ponderings

Finding Beauty Amid Sorrow

Parashat Chaye Sarah

Genesis 23:1-25:18

This week’s reading, Chaye Sarah, begins and ends with sorrow. Our matriarch, Sarah, dies at the age of 127, leaving behind Abraham, patriarch of the Jewish people and ten years her senior, and son Isaac, now 37 and not yet wed. Abraham mourns and weeps over Sarah then begins the difficult process of purchasing a burial place for his beloved and interring her there. Nearly 40 years later, Abraham also dies. Though he is 175 years of age and dies “old and contented” (Gen. 25:8), our own lived experience suggests that his family bewails his passing even as they give thanks for the fullness of life that Abraham enjoyed. Finally, Ishmael, Abraham’s son through his concubine Hagar, also dies at 137.

Many decades separate the passings of Abraham, Sarah and Ishmael, yet the succession of their deaths within a single parasha leaves us bereft. Our history as a people, after all, begins with this family. The loss of Abraham and Sarah within one literary unit should rightly leave us feeling the sadness that comes when a whole generation of family dies out.

The parasha, however, is not to be characterized solely by feelings of loss. Between the passings of Sarah and Abraham is a beautiful story of love discovered late in life that gives us hope for the future. Soon after Sarah’s passing, Abraham takes measures to ensure that the blessings that God had bestowed upon him, will be vouchsafed by Isaac and his descendents. Chapter 24 of Genesis tells of Abraham’s servant Eliezer journeying to the city of Nahor, Abraham’s birthplace, to find there a wife for Isaac from among Abraham’s kin. The one who emerges as Isaac’s prospective wife is Rebecca, who at once shows herself to be a kind, generous person. Eliezer brings Rebecca to Isaac; the two wed; and “Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death” (Gen. 24:26). In between the loss of both parents, comes this “happily-ever-after moment” for Isaac. We have to think he deserves this pleasant outcome. After all, he had once been bound by his father on an altar and nearly sacrificed as a burnt offering.

This parasha illustrates a powerful truth about life. When confronted with pain and sorrow, as we ultimately all will be, it behooves us to be on the lookout for life’s beauty as well. We can hope that Isaac and Ishmael grow closer as they reunite at their father’s burial place. That would be nice for all concerned. While the Torah is silent on that count, it is very clear that the union of Isaac and Rebecca, ostensibly arranged by God with Eliezer as God’s helper, is intended as a moment of luminescence amid some darkness. No matter what straits we find our selves in, there will be those times when our hearts will be warmed and lifted. May we, as did our ancestors, recognize and appreciate those beautiful times when they arise.

Shabbat Shalom.

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