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

Before embarking on a Torah conversation, I want to thank MRT for sponsoring the amazing vigil on Monday night. Between those seated, standing (in and outside of the sanctuary/social hall) and live streamed, I am told that we touched over 1000 lives that night. The evening was awe inspiring and we are truly blessed to have each other. In light of the most recent acts of violence in Pittsburgh and Louisville, we need to take stock of our blessings and appreciate them and each other enough to protect them. The best way to protect one’s own well being is to respect the dignity of each other, as well. Please know that we are addressing security moving forward, and our leadership is more than happy to speak with anyone, as to what needs to be done.

Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah. This week’s Torah portion begins with these words. Many find it odd that, given these first words, the first episode in this text is Sarah’s death. One might want to understand the phrase as the beginning of her eulogy. At funerals, we do not often speak about someone’s death; we help people cherish his/her life. One might then expect the portion to go on about Sarah’s legacy. Her name fades into the background (except as the object of Abraham’s effort to bury her).

What is Sarah’s legacy? While her name goes unmentioned, the rest of the story could not happen, but for her life’s work. In telling the story of her son, Isaac, and grandsons Jacob and Esau, we speak to the value of her life. Perhaps it is not about what she did, but what she gave us. She was by no means perfect. She was jealous and angry; insecure and controlling. She was also loving and faithful; resilient and strong. The Torah text makes no effort to hide her warts or embellish her blessings. Torah does help us understand how human she was.

Each of us struggles between the blessing and the challenge, the behaviors that heal and the ones that are only selfish (and often they are both). In reading Sarah’s story, we get to see our own lives play out. Seeing someone else struggle in the same way in which we struggle helps us understand our own humanity. Watching her legacy unfold in the founding of a great nation also reminds us that while we are not perfect, we still can accomplish amazing things.

In our current societal conversation, this truth got lost somewhere over the last 30 years. We somehow expect perfection and measure the standard by how well another is “in line” with our own beliefs. If out of step with them, then people tend to dismiss the value of such a person’s neshamah and humanity … and by extension, the value of their legacy.

The events of the last week (the shootings in Louisville and Pittsburgh and the mailed bombs around the country) ought to wake us up that our world is falling apart. It will continue to rip at the seems until we commit to changing the way in which we engage with each other. When our good causes get hijacked, when people in our circles act badly, and when our established norms no longer work for society, we have to stand up and turn the ship back in the correct direction. We have to become willing to listen to each other and not feel the need to defend what is indefensible. We need to remember that people on any side of a dispute feel strongly about their respective positions and need to be validated in their feelings, even where we disagree. If we dismiss their humanity, we set ourselves on a course for violence. When our interest in any conversation is winning at all cost, we condemn ourselves not to have a future.

Torah celebrates Sarah’s legacy. What are our current behaviors leaving to the future? Will our children be better off because we taught them to hate? How do we pray for peace and then “pursue it” acting as if peace comes from vanquishing the opposition voice?

Chayei Sarah – the life of Sarah. I don’t know about you, but I pray that what I leave this world is better than what I got and that my true legacy will be one that sees people coming together in a common bond of decency and respect. I pray that I leave students “hell-bent” on healing the world and bridging the chasms that seem to keep us exiled from each other. Shabbat Shalom.