Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Chayei Sarah

I have been to an inordinate number of funerals and memorial gatherings over the last few years. Yes, as a Rabbi, it is part of the job. Either my relationship base is broadening to include lots more people, I am getting older (as are my peers), more people are dying, or perhaps a combination of all of the above. As I hold people who are grieving, I find myself more and more deeply invested in the truth that people never leave us. IF they touched our lives, they stay attached, no matter what happens. I understand that it is hard to remember our blessings in these moments of loss. Sometimes, though, loss brings us back together, restoring relationships ripped apart for a host of “earthly reasons” none of which matter in the realm of the spirit. The appreciation we hold for these people well transcends the grave.

While this portion begins with the death of Sarah, it also speaks to the passing of Abraham. Our tradition venerates Abraham as the patriarch’s patriarch. Many call him the “father of Judaism (through Isaac, son of Sarah).” Of course, this is symbolic, but his grave (the cave Me’arat Machpelah) is one of the holiest sites in Jewish tradition. Muslims also venerate Abraham and recognize this buriel site (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) as one of the holiest sites in Islam. Abraham (Ibrihim) is the “father of Islam (through Ishmael, son of Hagar).”

I find it amazing how both traditions stem from this one man’s story, and, yet, neither wants to recognize the other as equal in faith. Ok, that is not fair. Our more fundamentalist sides of both do not want us to recognize each other as equals in faith. Traditions grow driving wedges between us, and most folks who do not know enough about their own faith and even less about others blindly accept the chasm’s reality. For all of the difficulty that separated Isaac and Ishmael during their lives (including Abraham’s casting Hagar and Ishmael from the camp into the wilderness), our own book declares Ishmael to be a father of a great people. Further, the end of the Abrahamic story finds Isaac and Ishmael, estranged through life, consoling each other at Be’er Lachai Ro’ee, the well where Hagar had her vision and where she and Ishmael lived after their expulsion: Ishmael’s well.

Our text tells us that they experienced blessings in each other’s company, for despite the history that separated them, they realized they both were fathered by a visionary man. He may have struggled with his wives, but he had enough faith to hear God’s call and seek God’s blessing. He had enough faith to instill faith in his sons, teaching them that one could reach for God in different directions, different languages, different rituals, and from different life experiences … the very same God.

Avraham or Ibrihim … Abraham’s story should be our rallying story in doing the work of healing the world. Despite his partial failure as a father or husband, he somehow found the soul to teach his sons that God was bigger than any one tradition or theology. We need a huge dose of this truth right here and right now. Shabbat Shalom.