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Parshat Chayei Sara: A Meaningful Death

I don’t know what happens when people die
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
That I can’t sing
I can’t help listening
-Jackson Browne

This week’s Torah portion is called Chayei Sara – The Life of Sara. It’s an odd name for the parsha because it opens with the passing and burial of Sara. It is strange that the Torah would define her life with a description of her death. 

The Torah mentions that Avraham eulogized her and I am sure, as with any eulogy, when we speak of a person’s life and their accomplishments – what they meant to us and how they effected us – we generally don’t speak of their moments of death but of what they did whilst alive. So maybe the parsha’s title is referring to what some would call a “celebration of life” when referring to a funeral. 

But there is a much deeper meaning to the name of the parsha and it relates to the fact that one of the highlights of Sara’s life, and perhaps her most monumental accomplishment, happened through her passing. 

For 62 long years, Avraham was told that he would be given the land of Israel. From the time that Avraham was 75-years-old and was told to leave his home to go to the land of Canaan, he was repeatedly assured of the Promised Land. And indeed that is how Israel got that nickname – a promise of a future homeland for Avraham’s descendants. Over and over and over again, God promises that the land of Canaan will be a home for his many descendants. 

The only problem is that for over six decades since that initial pledge, Avraham hadn’t seen it fulfilled. Not an inch of land had come into his possession. He had faithfully spread the teaching of One God while travelling from one place to another, but as yet was still a “resident and alien”, as he calls himself, within the land of Canaan. He didn’t own a sliver of the land he had been promised by God. 

Until now. 

Until it came time to bury his wife, Sara. And then the Torah is quite emphatic and specific as to the details of Avraham’s first acquisition of real estate that would later become the Land of Israel. The tone of the Torah’s description of that purchase is very legal, detailed and unambiguous in defining the new owner of this property.  

So, in a large sense, one of, and perhaps the biggest impact Sara had on the future nation of Israel other than giving birth to Isaac, happens through her demise. Only when Avraham acquires the Machpelah cave in Hebron/Kiryat Arba for her final resting place does he finally see God’s promises fulfilled and become a reality for the first time in his life. Only though his wife Sara – at her passing – does Avraham begin to get an inkling and taste of those long-ago promises coming to fruition. 

In an odd, sad and tragic sort of way, Sara’s death becomes her life, her definition and one of her greatest accomplishments. The beginning of the future Jewish nation having a homeland to live in, to develop, to be exiled from only to return over 2000 years later – part of the greatest prophecy ever fulfilled – starts here and it starts now, with the death of Sara. Her death becomes her life. Her passing is indeed Chayei Sara – The Life of Sara.   

That someone’s death can overshadow almost everything else they did in life is not a completely strange phenomenon. On some level this is what the Jewish nation is now experiencing. The loss of so many lives a month ago to terrorists and the loss of every IDF member is overwhelming, tragic and sad. But at the same time it is also nation-changing. Every one of those precious souls lost in the greatest tragedy to befall the Jewish nation since the Holocaust is catastrophic and heartbreaking. But they have also forever transformed and changed the Jewish nation and perhaps the entire world as well. 

Certainly none of those over 1400 murdered innocents chose to play this role nor would their families ever want them to. But the aftermath of shock, horror, sympathy, tears, unity, prayers, events, vigils, campaigns to assist Israel, solidarity missions and marches, has catapulted each of these precious lives into something much bigger. 

The divisions that plagued our people just a few short weeks ago are long-gone – for now and hopefully forever. Jews whose main belief and religion was Progressivism have now found themselves abandoned by their left-wing allies and are being forced to redefine themselves as Jews. The events of the past month have become a watershed moment all over the globe in defining Good versus Evil as we now witness, watch and ask: Which side will nations and leaders gravitate towards? All of these earth-shattering events came about though each and every one of those special souls who could never imagine the enormous impact their passing would have in changing the course of Jewish and of world history. 

Sara unwittingly transformed the future of the great nation of Israel through no act or choice of her own, but simply through her passing. She altered the course of Jewish history in a way that neither she nor anyone else could ever have anticipated. Her death became her legacy and, in a large sense, the definition of her life.

So too it is our hope and prayer that these beautiful Jewish neshamot have not died in vain but are similarly transforming our nation, our people and the world-at-large to become better, to recognize evil, and to take every necessary step to wipe it from the face of the earth once and for all so that Goodness, Truth and Shalom can finally reign supreme. Their passing will forever be their Chayei – their eternal Life.   

Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down
Perhaps a better world is drawing near

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