- Abraham purchases the cave of Machpelah in order to bury his wife Sarah. (23:1-20)
- Abraham sends his servant to find a bride for Isaac. (24:1-9)
- Rebekah shows her kindness by offering to draw water for the servant's camels at the well. (24:15-20)
- The servant meets Rebekah's family and then takes Rebekah to Isaac, who marries her. (24:23-67)
- Abraham takes another wife, named Keturah. At the age of one hundred and seventy-five years, Abraham dies, and Isaac and Ishmael bury him in the cave of Machpelah. (25:1-11)
by Judith Stolnitz
This week’s Parsha is Chayei Sarah, Sarah’s Life. The first verses, though, tell us only about Sarah’s death at the age of 127. The parsha continues with a description of how Abraham purchases the cave of Machpeilah to bury her. He negotiates a land purchase and buries her. Abraham bewails and mourns his wife of so many years. As a matter of fact, there is much more detail about the mourning of Sarah than her Chai, her life. The entire Portion is named for her Life, but covers only her death and the mourning aftermath.
About September 7, 2001, my mother called me from Philadelphia where she lives, (k’einahurah as my grandmother would say). “I think it is time you came to see your grandmother. She is not doing well.” How much time did my mother think there was? Was Grandma up for a phone call? Eventually, I hung up and investigated airfares.
Needless to say, I was unable to fly to Philadelphia or anywhere just a few days later. So when my Grandma Bea passed away on September 18, I was heartbroken. Not only had I not been able to see her before she died, but now I couldn’t fly after the plane attacks? I couldn’t participate in her life while she still breathed and now I couldn’t honor her death.
Luckily, the planes began flying again and I got on one a couple of days later. It was the last time I was to fly cheap, with water and on an empty plane. I may have even had my swiss army knife with me. I had to be at that funeral. I had to be with my siblings and cousins to mourn Grandma Bea.
Because Grandma was going to be buried on Cape Cod and not in Philadelphia, the traditional shiva would not be held. However, my father, usually a stickler for tradition and rules, lit the mourner’s seven day candle after the funeral anyway and 3 generations settled in to keep Shabbat and be together.
We shared the details of our trips to get to Philadelphia, we talked about what 9/11 had been like for two cousins who lived and worked in Manhattan. And we ate. We sat together in my parent’s apartment in the glow of the seven day candle and the Shabbat candles and lived. We told stories, we laughed, we cried. At one point one of my young second cousins asked in distress why we were all laughing when Grandma Bea was gone. His father hugged him and told him we were all sad, but that by laughing and being together we were celebrating the boy’s great-grandmother’s life, more than bewailing and mourning could ever do.
The mourning was celebrating Grandma Bea’s life, as was Abraham’s dealing with Sarah’s death. Before he places Sarah with honor in the Cave, Abraham bewails his beloved wife. By taking the responsibility of purchasing land only for burial, and to house his wife’s remains, Abraham gives Sarah’s Life the honor it deserves. This is the first land he has purchased in the Promised Land. He demonstrates what she meant to him, to the tribe as a whole and ultimately to the Jewish people.
With our tight knit society now spread over ever wider areas, we have to find new ways to celebrate people’s lives and mourn. Facebook has become a way to share the sad news and sometimes beautiful eulogies or stories about the recently deceased. Phone calls and sympathy cards connect us when the planes can’t fly, but nothing can replace the honor we give a life be following mourning traditions. By telling stories,laughing, hugging, bewailing, AND eating, we remind those who share a relationship with the person who has passed how important they were in life. How their lives will continue to touch our own. This is the beauty of Abraham’s grieving and of the Jewish traditions associated with Death.
And just as Abraham continues to live after the funeral by finding new consorts, fathering many more children, and finding his son a wife, so do families continue after Shiva is complete. Isaac is helped in getting past his grieving by embracing his wife Rebecca in his mother’s tent. He fills the emptiness with the new love of his wife.
We have a responsibility to continue life, if only so the lives of those who have come before us aren’t lost. Filling our own empty tents with friends, family, traditions and stories helps us to heal.