Thursday, November 24, 2016

Parsha Chayei Sarah: The True Meaning of Thanksgiving

Former athlete Carl Lewis said that life is about timing, and I think that is applicable considering this week's Torah portion of Chayei Sarah (literally meaning "the life of Sarah"), which covers the Book of Genesis, chapters 23 to 25. Timing plays an even bigger factor when death rears its ugly head. The beginning of this week's Torah portion with the death of Sarah. Aside from saying how old Sarah was and where she died, the Torah does not mention Sarah further (23:1-2). Abraham weeps (23:2), and then proceeds to buy a burial plot for Sarah (23:3-20). American writer Mary Catherine Bateson said that "the timing of death, like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to it." This insight can help us solve another quandary in the Torah. After the burial takes place, the Torah says the following at the beginning of chapter 24:

ואברבם זקן, בא בימים. והשם ברך את אברהם בכל.
Abraham was old, well stricken in age; and G-d blessed Abraham in all things. -Genesis 24:1

It's not just the timing of Sarah's death that makes me wonder, but also the timing of this verse. Abraham just lost the love of his life, and the Torah says that "Abraham was blessed in everything?!" Without further context, it seems like the Torah is being insensitive to Abraham's loss, or that Sarah did not mean anything to Abraham, G-d forbid. Fortunately, the sages over the ages can provide some insight as to this conspicuously timed verse:
  • One idea is based on commentary from Chasidic leader Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, which is that a righteous person wants nothing for himself, and is focused on helping others. Being blessed in all things (בכל) is that everyone around Avraham became blessed.  
  • Per R. Yaakov Yitzchak of Lublin (Seer of Lublin), the idea of being blessed in all things (בכל) is that you are able to serve G-d "with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your might (Deuteronomy 6:5)."
  • The Hebrew word זקן does not only mean old, but wise. Having experienced the death of his wife and the burial process, Avraham gained a new sense of wisdom that allowed him to be a master of time instead of being a slave to it, i.e., בא בימים or to "come into days" (Avraham Aryeh Trugman). 
  • Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon opined that Abraham was blessed in all, in both good times and bad. From Spurgeon's point of view, the blessing was G-d giving Abraham to have the resilience to get through the rough times, whether it was when G-d commanded Abraham to slay his son or the loss of his wife.
  •  Being blessed "in all things" meant that Abraham never lacked anything (Ohr La-Yesharim). This idea of satisfaction is encapsulated in the Pirke Avot (4:1) that says "Who is rich? The one who is satisfied with their own lot."
  • R. Zelig Pliskin comes with an alluring interpretation. To "come with his days" means to come with all of his days. We are not meant to waste a single moment of our lives. Going off this interpretation, I would say that is why commentators such as Ramban and Radak view that Abraham was blessed in all things, except for Isaac having a wife. Even with wealth, honor, progeny, and a strong sense of purpose, Abraham still had more to do with his life. 
Let us be thankful for the blessings that we once had, the ones we do have, and the ones we, along with G-d, may create in the future!

No comments:

Post a Comment