Torah Thoughts: Parashat Chayei Sarah 5779
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Show Up for Shabbat
At the beginning of Parashat Chayei Sarah we are told about Sarah’s death. Abraham then purchases the cave of Machpelah in order to bury his wife Sarah. Right after that the Torah tells us that Abraham was old and God had blessed him in all things. Perhaps confronting his own loneliness and mortality (as the Chumash Etz Hayim suggests), the first thing Abraham does after burying his wife Sarah is try to find a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham sends his servant to the place he was born to find a wife for Isaac, since Abraham did not want Isaac to marry a Canaanite woman.
Why does the Torah tell us that the first thing Abraham did after burying his wife was to worry about finding a wife for his only son? As it has been said, perhaps the death of his beloved wife made him think that he himself might die soon. He felt he was responsible for his son and wanted to fulfill his responsibility as soon as he could. Even more important than that, the divine promise of making of Abraham a great nation was in danger should Isaac not form a family and have descendants.
As Abraham confronted death, he was looking for new life. He knew that the key for the continuity of his family was not in his hands, but in his son’s hands. And he wanted to help his son to assure the continuity of his family, his faith, his promised nation. Besides, what better tribute to his wife than making sure that their son would be continuing what they both had started, with so much effort and love? When we confront death, it is natural to seek life. When we witness something ending, it is normal to look for another start.
After the horrific anti-Semitic attack in Pittsburgh, I think that we, as a Jewish community, are doing something similar this week. As we say in Hebrew, lehavdil!, please be aware that we are dealing with two very different situations and that comparisons can sometimes be misleading. Still, I find this comparison comforting and encouraging. After the first response of shock and deep sadness, most of the Jewish communities in this country and many around the world, have been meeting to mourn and grieve together. At the same time, we are expressing that antisemitism and hate will not intimidate us, that we will continue gathering and living according to our values, customs, and beliefs, those that were started by Abraham and Sarah. In the face of death, we look toward the future and continuity, in the good and in the bad. That is how we are, we respond to death with life.
Like so many congregations and Jewish institutions, Temple Beth El gathered last Monday evening to grieve and to be together. It was an evening of healing and community, so necessary for all of us. In this same spirit, I want to invite you to join the initiative launched by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), a global Jewish advocacy organization, the so called “Show Up for Shabbat” campaign. We are invited to join AJC in honoring the memory of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims and standing up to anti-Semitism and all forms of hate by participating in this nationwide campaign. AJC is calling on Jewish communities across the country—along with elected officials, religious and civic leaders, and other allies, both Jewish and non-Jewish—to flock to synagogues this coming Shabbat, November 2nd and 3rd. As AJC CEO David Harris said in a statement, “What could be a more fitting response to the terror in Pittsburgh? We are determined to ensure that love triumphs over hate, good over evil, unity over division. That’s our America.”
Let us face terror and death with life and love. Let us combat those who want to see us disappear by being together, by showing that we are here, determined to assure our continuity and to continue living according to our values and customs. Please join us this coming Shabbat for services!