Chayei Sarah--living our values

Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
November 3, 2018
There is an old joke that you may have heard before:
A man was lying in bed on Saturday morning. His wife said to him, “get out of bed and go to synagogue.”

"I don’t want to go to shul”, he said , “and there are three reasons for that. First, I am tired. Second, I don’t like the congregation, nor do they like me. Third, I really dislike the sermons. The Rabbi goes on and on, and usually has nothing to say.

So the wife said, “those excuses are no good. Get out of bed and go to shul for three reasons. First, it is Shabbat and you belong in shul. Second, for the reputation of the family it is not nice that you do not show up in shul. And third, you are the Rabbi.”

As a congregant, I have had Shabbatot that I have slept in, but as a rabbi that desire has rarely existed. You can check with Rebecca, but most Shabbat mornings I am enthusiastic about coming to shul. I am proud to be part of an incredible community. Thursday night, Dean and I spoke for awhile after the commemoration. I reiterated what I have said to all of you, St. Petersburg is my home. Congregation B’nai Israel is my family. We have been welcomed with open arms and have quickly rooted ourselves here. Each week that we have shared together I have worked to open our hearts to Torah, to get to the essential ideas of the parsha, and connect our souls to our Loving Gd.

Yet I will admit to a few nerves this week. The wounds from last week are fresh. We are not healed. Our hearts are broken. Through the power of community, the power of GD, the power of love, we slowly stitch them back together. Joining over a thousand people Thursday night, seeing so many of you last night, welcoming our guests today, I am grateful for this incredible community. I see the path forward. It is a path of peace--as we say when we return the Sefer Torah, our holy scroll, דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי נעַם וְכָל נְתִיבתֶיהָ שָׁלום, It’s ways are pleasant, and all its paths are peace.

When we opened our Torah this morning, we saw a parsha title Hayei Sarah, yet the very first words are the death of Sarah.
וַיִּהְיוּ֙ חַיֵּ֣י שָׂרָ֔ה מֵאָ֥ה שָׁנָ֛ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְשֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים שְׁנֵ֖י חַיֵּ֥י שָׂרָֽה׃
Sarah’s lifetime—the span of Sarah’s life—came to one hundred and twenty-seven years.
וַתָּ֣מָת שָׂרָ֗ה בְּקִרְיַ֥ת אַרְבַּ֛ע הִ֥וא חֶבְר֖וֹן בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ׃
Sarah died in Kiriath-arba—now Hebron—in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her

How can this parsha be called the life of Sarah when it is about her death?
Rabbi Simeon Maslin of Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA wrote a Torat Hayim on this subject:
"What moral did the rabbis find in the title "The life of Sarah?" They taught that "the righteous are called living even after death, while the wicked are called dead even in life." I find that the easiest way to answer this question is to look at the facts. Righteous people not only live righteous and virtuous lives, but teach others to emulate their actions and find righteousness within their own lives. After the righteous pass, their memory still lives on within the minds and hearts of those who have learned from them, keeping their righteous and positive spirit alive. The opposite approach to this idea is that the wicked spread misery and promote wrong-doings in life, therefore in death they are remembered for the negative impact they made on the world.
(Note He cites Brachot 18)

The vast majority of the parsha is Avraham and Eliezer’s work to find a wife for Isaac. After last week, after the near sacrifice of Isaac, we see no more words between Isaac and Avraham, yet as Avraham ages, he wishes to see grandchildren. He wants to see his legacy. He wants to know that the Brit, the Covenant, will continue. After Isaac marries, establishes himself, finds love, then we see that Avraham also remarries. (The commentaries suggest that the woman he marries is actually Hagar!) He has more children. Once he knows that his son is satisfied, HE is able to continue to live his life. Without ensuring that HIS legacy is safe, he remains in a state of mourning. Both Avraham AND Isaac are able to continue living once Isaac is re-established.

This may be another way that Sarah lives on. Her influence lives on. Her son is her life. In some Arab cultures, there is a naming practice called kunya. After a son is born, the family may come to be known as the parents of that child. For example, my father would become abu Philip, and my mother Umm Philip. This does not replace their given names, but in familiar situations, they may be referred to in that way. Sarah lives on through her son, through her teachings, her ideas, her devotion to Gd.

This parsha also includes the death of Avraham. For the first time in at least a generation, Isaac and Ishmael stand side by side. They bury their father. Avraham gave gifts to all of his children while alive, but to Isaac, he bequeaths his entire estate--not just his property, but his values, his principles, his unbroken faith

While some of Avraham’s parenting may not be a model that we emulate, this desire to teach our children--whether biological, students, friends--to share our values resonates deeply. We know that we have learned incredible life lessons. We know that our Torah has inspired us. We want those important to us to hear these teachings, to grow from these teachings, to LIVE these teachings.

Returning to Pittsburgh, I think of these eleven individuals who came regularly to shul. They could be any one of us. They are the devoted ones that showed up on time. They are the ones who shared candy, read stories to their children and the children of the shul. They are the ones always ready to tell a bad joke or share a story, to give a hug, or simply say hello. Their legacy lives on with all of us. Simply by showing up today, we are living their legacy. By talking about our Torah, by considering the wisdom of the generations, by opening our hearts to the ways and practices of our people, we are remembering them.

Celebrating Shabbat today, we know that in those three congregations at Tree of Life, people observed Shabbat in many different ways--just as they do in this room. However we observe, however we celebrate, may their memories inspire us TO CELEBRATE. Let us sing, let us dance, let us bless Gd’s name, let us pray, for them, for us, to heal our hearts and to uplift our souls.

Shabbat Shalom