Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Chayei Sarah
There is a poem that reminds us that, when looking at someone’s biography, their life is valued not by the dates of its beginning or end, but by all that the dash between the dates represents. The dates of birth and death define the parameters of the lens through which we view life, but speak very little to its value. In truth, one who lives a short time can have a profound effect on the world, while one who languishes for years may have very little. Still though, we speak of life in terms of its length and default to arguing that one who lives many years lived a “full life,” while one who died young was somehow cheated (or cheated us).
“Why were you unkind to the nice people by wishing them to have only one leader; while you blessed the people of the other community that they should all be leaders?” Rabbi Yehoshua persisted. “You are making a mistake,” answered Elijah. “Wishing the townspeople to have one leader is a blessing, while wishing that all others be leaders is truly a curse! A community who has one leader will prosper and flourish while a community where everyone is a leader will continuously quarrel and fight.”
However we want to interpret the break-up of her years, the text tells us that life goes on in stages; that there are times when our lives change course; and times when those changes make us start counting “new time,” all over again. More importantly, even while we can trace someone’s biography, we cannot always know that what we think is obvious ever is. We suffer accusations from people often because of their baggage as much as anything we do or have done. We gain admiration from people, often clueless of what we did to deserve it.
At best, we can only guess at what motivates people around us. Focusing predominantly on how their actions affect us, we fail to see how those same actions affect them. When we are so focused on our own perceptions, we lose the ability to see the value of someone’s life as it passes through stages.
Sarah goes from being one hundred and twenty and seven, to 127, and all of her life amalgamates into one brief biographical footnote. Her life was filled with adventures that kept her vibrant and alive, even through the difficult episodes the text depicts. The “dash between her dates” exists … and it seems meaningless. We think we know a lot about people with whom we are close; we think we can fill in the biography of the dash. WE may be able to share what we experienced happening, but only if we truly open ourselves to each other can we ever know the full “what” or “why” … the value of what we perceived or failed to perceive.
|Rabbi Marc A. Kline