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Tragedy and Comfort

Friday, 18 November, 2011 - 8:16 pm

 Every year when I read this Torah portion I am always touched by the same moving story. Isaac marries Rebecca, and after being introduced to her by his father's servant Eliezer, he accepts her hand in marriage. When she enters the tent of his mother, the three miracles that Isaac's mother experienced returned. Namely; the cloud over her tent, the bread that remained fresh all week, and the candle that burned from Shabbat to Shabbat.

The Torah continues with "and he feels comforted over the loss of his mother." The commentary are intrigued with this whole poignant story and particularly at the name of the Torah Portion, Chaya Sarah, which means the Life of Sarahwhen only the first verses speak of her life and the vast majority of the portion speaks about a "post Sarah era."

It is there that they deliver a pearl of wisdom that is as timeless as it is precious. Person’s years, the rabbis declare are not always measured in the time that they spent here on earth while in a physical body. Indeed it is possible that the "life of a person" continues to be measured well after they pass away.

Isaac only agrees to marry Rebecca after she enters Sara's tent (and the miracles return), thus Sara's influence is very real and present even three years after she passed away.

Furthermore, when it talks about the passing of Abraham our forefather and describes the burial ceremony, the verse indicates Isaac's name before Yishmaels.

According to the Midrash, when Sarah sent Hagar away (in last week’s portion) it was in order to encourage the mother and son to do repentance. This was indeed accomplished by the end of Abraham's life as indicated by the mentioning of Isaac before Yishmael, thus indicating that he had repented and afforded respect to Isaac and allowed him to go first. Again we see the concept of how Sara's activities that she had initiated in her lifetime, had ramifications many years after her passing.

In other words, while she was no longer physically alive, she was spiritually alive and still influencing her surroundings. Thus the name of this weeks Torah portion is accurate when it calls it Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah, sinceSarah's life influenced the events at the end of the portion too.

Perhaps this is the message too, embedded in the portion to help reconcile tragedy and comfort. While no one will dispute that the losses are painful and felt for a long time, still some comfort can be had, when the legacy of the loved ones who have passed on, are kept alive by those who survive them. How does one accomplish this great task? By doing something specifically in their merit. Doing a mitzvah, light a candle on Friday before dark, lay the teffilin, give a little extra charity help another person in their time of need etc. basically doing something beyond what we would have done previously in their memory. That is how we keep them alive another day.

Make it a great week.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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