You will find this week’s Torah portion, Chaye-Sarah in the book of Genesis 23:1-25:18. Its name is one of the more ironic titles. Called “Chaye-Sarah meaning the “Life of Sarah” it provides details of Israel’s first matriarch’s death and burial. Having “buried” Sarah the text moves onto her “replacement”. Rebecca will now become Israel’s second matriarch. The text is brutally realistic. We live our lives, we die, and someone else takes our place. Generations come and generations go, and to deny life’s finiteness is to deny reality. The text teaches this lesson both actively and passively. Actively, Isaac carries Rebecca into Sarah’s tent and passively, as we read the text Sarah rapidly fades from our memories and we focus our attention on her replacement Rebecca.
Yet ironically, despite the fact that the people change, each new generation must face the same eternal problems, simply presented to us with new characters and context. Reading this week’s portion makes us realize how names and places change but the dramatic plot that we call life often repeats itself.
One of the central themes found throughout this week’s portion is a concept of commitment transformed into action. It is not style but substance that counts. The text cares less about words than it does about actions. For example, we read of Abraham’s commitment to his wife in seeking for her an appropriate burial site. We also learn about our national commitment in the purchase of the Ma’arat Ha’Machepelah (or Cave of the Multiplication) where the Bible’s first family is to be buried. Finally, we learn of about personal commitments as we study the loving relationship that develops between Isaac and Rebecca.
In every case within this week’s parashah, this same theme seeps through: that commitment means having a plan and following through on that plan, those good ideas must be transformed into real actions. The parashah teaches us that commitment is also related to the concept of patience. To be patient is to have the fortitude to stick with a goal even when there are many obstacles along its path.
In the modern world, we often suffer from a lack of patience. How often do we demand instant gratification? On the other hand, commitment in the extreme also can lead to our becoming obstinate, to a refusal to seek, when necessary, political and personal compromises.
How do we balance a sense of ethical commitment with the flexibility needed to survive in a dynamic and constantly changing world? One of the Torah’s answers is that the basis for our commitments must be the eternal ethics given to us by G-d. In other words, people change, but that eternal truths in a dynamic and ever-changing world are eternal. What do you think?
Along with the people of Pittsburgh, we mourn the deaths of the innocent victims at the Squirrel Hill Synagogue and pray for the recovery of the injured.
Youtubes of the week:
In memory of those who died in Pittsburgh, three renditions of the Kaddish.
A classical Kaddish: Cantor Azi Schwartz:
Ofra Haza Kadish:
The Reading of Kaddish at Yad Va’Shem followed by the singing of Ha’Tikvah: