It is perennially ironic that the title of this week’s parsha – Chayei Sarah – speaks to the “life of Sarah,” Abraham’s wife, yet this parsha begins and ends with death. Just last week we read the troubling account of Isaac’s near-sacrifice at Mount Moriah. That we open this week with Sarah’s death – at he age of one hundred twenty seven – is no accident. Many commentators connect Sarah’s death with Isaac’s narrow escape from tragedy. Some believe Sarah died of shock upon learning of her husband’s actions; others posit that Sarah’s death was the result of “an inability to live in a world as dangerous and unreliable as she has found this world to be, a world where life hangs by such a fragile thread.” (Zornberg, Etz Chayim Torah & Commentary) Once Sarah dies, her grieving husband Abraham arranges to have her buried – at full price – at the Cave of Machpelah, receiving permission from the Hittites to purchase land in what is present-day Hebron.
Two chapters later, having secured a wife for his son Isaac, Abraham “breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented.” (Genesis 25:8) He is buried alongside Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah. Though the circumstances of their deaths are different, each of them lived full, complete lives – filled with celebration and sorrow, pain and joy. For both Abraham and Sarah, their endings are treated with dignity and respect; the final resting place for both is one arranged with thought, care and consideration.
The arrangements we must make in the face of loss are at times overwhelming – from burial plots to funeral plans to shiva. Processing one’s grief in the midst of those plans can make the process that much more challenging – yet, as Chayei Sarah reminds us, making those very plans not only help us say goodbye to our loved ones; they help us demonstrate kavod l’meitim – respect for the deceased – one of the highest of all mitzvot. Whether one suffered or died peacefully, we remember our loved ones by celebrating their life. The very title of the parsha – The Life of Sarah – is a reminder of just how significant that distinction can be.
Tonight in Seattle at 7pm, I invite you to join me and Adam Halpern, JFS’ Director of Aging in Place, to discuss the practical, logistical and emotional needs involved with life transitions and preparing to say goodbye to our loved ones. It is the conclusion of our series “Life is a Journey,” presented by Temple’s Sacred Journeys Initiative. Whether we currently find ourselves in the midst of those challenging questions or not, at some point we will all find ourselves in that peculiar, overwhelming space. We invite you to join us, to learn and ask questions, so that we may continue to enrich our lives and the lives of those we love with dignity, respect and care.
Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen