Diario Judío México -
As I read Chayei Sarah for the first time as an adult and as a father of two daughters and in the context of only having one living grandparent (my bobe Maya) I had a viscerally negative reaction to the parsha. Not only is the title grossly misleading, no chai, only death burial and acquiring of land and even less sarah (barely mentioned 10 times, in comparison to abraham 39, rivka 14 and even equal to ephron with 10). This is how we commemorate our matriarch?
To add insult to injury, not only do we mention her briefly we then go into detailed land negotiations, followed closely by finding a replacement and to top it off we finish with Abraham taking yet another wife and bearing him 6 children! Not exactly an honorable send off to someone that is undoubtedly described as the “mother of the Jewish nation”.
So clearly I’m missing something. Let’s play a little Sherlock Holmes here… What does, the Life of Sarah, Detailed land negotiations, acquiring a match for your son and shockingly a husband’s second (third?) family have in common?
Will start with life… and a life of an extraordinary woman, a woman who not unlike my grandmother or for that matter my wife’s grandmother Rikle was full of difficulty, heartache and unbending support for their husbands and their family. My bobe and my wife’s bobe cannot be more physically apart, mine is short (!) her’s is not… mine has always been very svelte, hers…. well mine has been svelte. Mine is a firecracker who taught Yiddish for over 50 years in mexico and is known throughout the jewish mexican community simply as “lererke”, my wife’s is a stable woman who managed to raise 5 children almost singlehandedly after her husband’s early death and who’s children and grandchildren have set up one of the most respected Jewish schools in Mexico. So, what do they have in common? that at a drop of a hat they can get dozens and in the case of Daniela’s grandmother near a hundred descendants to be present for joyous family occasions…. regardless of internal conflicts and disagreements. What the bobe says, we do. period.
Do they, and Sarah, not deserve an incredible amount of respect and admiration? of course they do! are their contributions felt daily in comparison to their husbands who worked classic jobs and brought home the pay? well, not really…. Their effects a different… the results are different… hence the respect we pay them, and that the Torah gives Sarah, must be different. But how?
With detailed and archaic land negotiations involving obscure middle eastern demonstrations of respect and admiration resulting in the purchase of a small batch of land! well, yes, sort of… the Torah carefully states that the outcome of the negotiations was ” a property for Abraham” and also a “heritage of Abraham”. The initiating cause for the establishment of a Jewish homeland, is no less than the passage of Sarah. Sarah catalyzes and at the same time brings (even in death) the physical realization of the land Israel. That is how one pays respect to a Matriarch!
The next step in our investigation is also potentially troubling, the search for a replacement! the next matriarch, a matriarch that was mentioned at the conclusion of vayera with her birth and who makes a grand entrance in the middle of a chapter devoted to her predecesor. what Chutzpah!
But also, what foresight. As we have seen in the last few years in the middle east, the most carefully crafted of dictatorships, the most socially engineered societies can easily crumble when power passes on from one generation to the next. Again, the grandmothers come to set an example. Rikle, being the epitome of the bobe, able to look at each grandkid in the eye when asked “who is your favorite” and tell them “at this moment, you are” and be saying the truth. This is the same bobe who makes sure that the pictures of whoever is visiting that day are front and center in her mantle. This is the bobe that understand the importance of passing on love, respect and family values to each generation.
Now my bobe. Did I mention she’s a firecracker? She is rarely without an opinion and frequently at loggerheads with my mom, who in turn is not uncommonly arguing with my sister who most likely than not is clashing with my niece. Love has many ways of being manifested, but one sure way of being transmitted, mother, to daughter, to daughter in-law, to grandaughter, etc…
Lastly, and most improbably, Abraham who was at the start of the parsha is described near death “QUOTE TO FILL” still manages to get married (again!) and have not one, but 6 children…
This was admittedly the most challenging answer to find, and I have to thank Steve Frankel for giving me a book by FILL IN, that tangengially gives an answer. In his analysis of the grieving after Sarah’s death there is no mention of Isaac, and less of his mourning. He (and Ephron) have a job a to do, to continue with the tradition and to establish the next step for the Jewish people. But this must only occur after Sarah’s passing. Similarly, Abraham also had a job to do, as not only is he considered the father of the Jewish people, he is also known by the other 2 major religions as their father and as such he must establish the seeds of other cultures and religions, all monotheistic, all with their respective pedigrees and all initiating from what we know now as the middle east, but also known as the cradle of civilization.
So, the only way that the Jewish people could have a homeland, a Jewish tradition to hand down and, yes, other cultures to flourish would require not only the love of a woman, the strength of this woman, but also her passing.