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Parashat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

“Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.”

(Genesis 24:1)

Parashat Chayei Sarah presents us with history’s first crisis of Jewish continuity.  God’s promise to make him, “a great nation” notwithstanding, Abraham realizes his son Isaac is still single and something needs to be done about it or there will be no Jewish people in the future.  Abraham responds by sending his servant back to “the old country” to find a suitable wife from within the larger clan, rather than choosing from the local Canaanite women.  Abraham wants his grandchildren to be Jewish.

Interestingly, the Torah describes Rebekah, the woman who becomes Isaac’s wife, as beautiful, modest, generous of spirit, and welcoming (Gen. 24: 16, 19, 25), so it’s easy to understand why the Torah says, when Isaac and Rebekah meet, “…and Isaac loved her…” (Gen. 24:67); Rebekah is a fine person, even if the Torah is silent on her spiritual and religious profile.

The Jewish community is as concerned today about the Jewish future as Abraham and worries about the same challenge:  how do you make a compelling argument for the value of particularism and tribalism in today’s increasingly universal and pluralistic world?  Are these values, in fact, mutually exclusive?  JCCs strive to offer opportunities for members to explore the meaning of Jewish living for themselves, while welcoming all members of the larger communal “family,” regardless of faith.  In that way, JCCs help root the next generation in its Jewish heritage while simultaneously engaged with the larger society.  It’s not an easy balance to achieve, but it is worth the effort.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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