Parshat Chaye Sara: Genesis 23:1-25:18; I Kings 1:1-31
By Rabbi Amy B. Bigman
This week’s portion begins with the death of Sarah. It teaches us about death and also about life.
We are told at the very beginning that “Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead and spoke to the Hittites saying, ‘… sell me a burial site among you that I may remove my dead for burial.’” [Genesis 23:2-4]
We learn from this that not only do we mourn for our loved ones, but also it is our responsibility to make arrangements for their burial. Based upon this and other biblical texts, Jewish mourning customs develop.
There are two basic principles by which Jewish death and mourning rites are governed: k’vod ha-met, “the dignified or respectful treatment of the dead,” and k’vod he-chai, “the honored treatment of the living (the surviving relatives).”
There are specific laws and customs associated with the burial of loved ones and the mourning rituals included therein. However, Judaism is not a religion of death, but rather of life.
Once Abraham purchases a burial site for his beloved Sarah, he returns to concerns of life, in particular, finding a wife for his son Isaac so that life will continue through the next generation. Genesis 24 tells the lengthy story of Abraham sending his servant back to Abraham’s homeland to find a wife for Isaac. The servant finds Rebecca, whose family and Rebecca herself agree to a marriage with Isaac.
Near the end of Genesis 24, we learn of Isaac and Rebecca’s first meeting. “Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother, Sarah, and he took Rebecca as his wife. Isaac loved her and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:67)
Life not only continues for Isaac, but for his father Abraham as well. In the very next verse, we are told that “Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah.” The text continues with a list of the sons that Keturah and Abraham had.
We learn an important lesson from these stories of Abraham and Isaac: As much as they loved their beloved Sarah, their lives had to continue, Abraham with another wife and children and Isaac with his marriage to Rebecca (and eventual children).
Judaism teaches that life is to continue following the death of a loved one. But we are not to forget our loved one; Judaism gives us plenty of ways to mark the death of loved ones through the yearly observance of yahrtzeit and four times a year through yizkor.
Of course, we also remember them on days other than those mentioned; but we must carry on with our lives. We do not move on but rather move forward in our lives. We keep our loved ones in our hearts as we honor their memories by continuing to live good lives, lives of which they would be proud.
Rabbi Amy B. Bigman is rabbi at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in East Lansing.