For the week ending 26 November 2005 / 24 Heshvan 5766

Parshat Chayei Sara

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Sarah, Mother of the Jewish People, passes on at age 127. After mourning and eulogizing her, Avraham seeks to bury her in the Cave of Machpela. As this is the burial place of Adam and Chava, Avraham pays its owner, Ephron the Hittite, an exorbitant sum. Avraham sends his faithful servant Eliezer to find a suitable wife for his son, Yitzchak, making him swear to choose a wife only from among Avrahams family. Eliezer travels to Aram Naharaim and prays for a sign. Providentially, Rivka appears. Eliezer asks for water. Not only does she give him water, but she draws water for all 10 of his thirsty camels. (Some 140 gallons!) This extreme kindness marks her as the right wife for Yitzchak and a suitable Mother of the Jewish People. Negotiations with Rivka's father and her brother Lavan result in her leaving with Eliezer. Yitzchak brings Rivka into his mother Sarahs tent, marries her and loves her. He is then consoled for the loss of his mother. Avraham remarries Hagar who is renamed Ketura to indicate her improved ways. Six children are born to them. After giving them gifts, Avraham sends them to the East. Avraham passes away at the age of 175 and is buried next to Sarah in the Cave of Machpela.


Lens On Life

"the life of Sara...." (23:1)

We are fragile people living in a fragile world. Our greatest joy can be shattered in an instant.

In this weeks Torah portion, Avraham returns to his beloved wife Sara, elated with the news that their son Yitzchak had been saved from death, only to find that Sara had passed away.

How can we relate to situations that mix such extremes of feeling? How can we make sense of such unbearable contradictions?

Once, a noble from the town of Kabul invited the Sages to his sons wedding feast. As the meal progressed, the king noticed that there was no wine left on the tables. He despatched his son the bridegroom to bring a new barrel from the upper chamber. The son climbed the stairway and entered the chamber. At that moment, a snake slithered out from between the barrels and bit him. The bridegroom fell to the floor, dead. When his son failed to re-appear, the king himself made his way up to the wine store. There, he found his beloved son lying lifeless between the barrels. He returned to the meal quietly. He said nothing. Such was the composure of the king that nobody guessed that anything untoward had happened.

The banquet came to its end and the guests wanted to say the blessings after the meal. The king stood up and said, "You have not come here to recite the blessing for the bridegroom; you have come to recite with me the blessing for mourners. You have not come here to celebrate my sons marriage but to accompany him to his grave."

If the king had such control over his emotions that he was able to return to his sons wedding banquet and act as though nothing had happened, if he was able to contain his grief to such an extent, why didnt he control his grief further and let the guests go home unaware of the tragedy?

In truth, it was not a lack of control that made the king speak out. As long as there was no halachic necessity for him to reveal his grief, the king kept silent. However, when the time came for the blessings after the meal to be recited it would have been incorrect to recite the version that refers to the bridegroom. At that point, the correct version of the blessings after the meal was the one that seeks to comfort the mourner and his loss.

The halacha is our lens on existence, our point of interface between ourselves and the world. It is the point where our feelings and objective reality coincide. The Torah gives us the matrix of response to both the greatest joy and the uttermost sadness. There is no situation in life that the Torah ignores or bypasses. The Torah empowers us to relate to situations that extend from the everyday and the prosaic to the extraordinary and the unheard of, and by fulfilling its precepts we find order, tranquillity and meaning in our lives.

The Torah is our lens on life.

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