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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Chayei Sarah – A personal reflection

Posted by rabbiart on November 14, 2014

This D’var Torah is dedicated to the memory of my mother – Shirley Gould.  Her Hebrew name was Sarah.  Readers undoubtedly know the six parshiot that have the names of real people; Noach, Sarah, Yitro, Korach, Balak, and Pinchas.  Were we to rate these six, the last three would immediately fall to the bottom of the list. Noach was a “pre-Jew”.  His story is part of the foundational myth of the creation of the world.  So maybe he comes in at third place. Having watched the movie “Noah” on the way back from Israel, where Noah sports well developed musculature and excels at hand-to-hand combat I have to say Noah was no Russell Crowe, or maybe Russel Crowe is no Noah.  On a more serious note, carpentry/boat building doesn’t quite compare with being an advisor (Yitro) to someone who spoke face to face with HaShem, or gave birth (Sarah) to the entire Jewish people.

(BTW Here’s a really good article exploring why the six people mentioned above merited a parsha named after them. )

Like my mother (עליה השלום), Sarah Emoteinu had a hard time giving birth.  When she found out she was to have a son, she laughed in utter astonishment.  Unlike my mother, who was incapable of anything but extremely blunt speech, Sarah attempts to do a little packaging, denying to HaShem that she had laughed upon hearing this news.

Although the name of the parsha means ‘the life of Sarah’, there is almost nothing about Sarah in the parsha.  The first meaningful story in the parsha is the tale of Avraham Avinu purchasing a burial plot for Sarah. That story is prefaced by this verse: Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and bewail her. A negotiation ensues.  At least no stones are thrown, and no guns are fired. Abraham purchases the double cave.

Sadly, there is to this day an ongoing dispute over “who owns the rights” to Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron.  Stones are thrown, guns have been fired, and people have been killed. As in our original story, suspicion is present, and trust is absent.  In the Parsha, Ephron the Hittite offers the cave and the field it is in as a gift to Abraham.  Abraham, for his part, insists on paying full value.  Between the words we see a delicate dance over who will hold the ownership rights to this land.

3,000 years later, nothing has changed. Two peoples, two narratives, two competing claims.

On the Arava Institute Israel Ride this year I made a new friend – Ahmed Sayara – who is an alum of the Arava Institute.  He lives in Hebron and participates in a ‘dual narrative’ tour. In this tour one hears from a Jewish family in Kiryat Arba and then goes over to the Arab side and sees things through a different set of eyes.  When speaking to the riders about his vision of the future, Ahmed said he did not expect to see the conflict settled in his lifetime.  But he said – perhaps we can move to a situation where we are only throwing chairs at each other and calling each other a**hole.

This would indeed be progress!

Shabbat is the time when we leave the ‘real world’ and get a taste of how the world is supposed to be. When we eat bread we say the b’rachah hamotzei lechem min ha-aretz. I heard a drosh once that during the six days of the week the b’rachah refers to bread that is created by the efforts of humans, but on Shabbat it is as if HaShem literally (and I don’t mean metaphorically!) brings bread forth from the earth.

Perhaps one day we will live in a ‘real world’ where bread comes forth from the earth, Kiryat Arba and Hebrew refer to the same place in the same way and all narratives come together so that we can all live together in peace.

Shabbat Shalom


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