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Parashat Chayei Sarah: Permission to Live Fully

By Isabel Mares

“Pain is important: how we evade it, how we succumb to it, how we deal with it, how we transcend it.”
– Audre Lorde

“Love is the ultimate expression of the will to live.”
– Tom Wolfe

If there were a single word for the human spirit, it would be resilient. In times of loss and uncertainty, we see again and again, the human being chooses life, community, and love. We perform and create rituals to aid us in our grief as much as we do for our joys. We remember and rebuild. Sacred texts often tell us that we celebrate life, with such deliberateness, because we have mourned.

We can mourn people, places, things, ideas, and dreams. It is painful, and it is natural.

Lest we forget it, we have witnessed such resilience this year. In finding novel ways to safely stay connected to our loved ones, in honoring our first responders, in support of those who are most in need, in the works of community organizers, in virtual worship, in art, in gratitude for all that is good and remains. I see this same resilience in Genesis.

“Sarah’s lifetime—the span of Sarah’s life—came to one hundred and twenty-seven years. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba—now Hebron—in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.” (Genesis 23:1-2)

This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1–25:18), translates to “The Life of Sarah,” yet it begins with her death. Abraham buries her “away from his sight,” in a cave in Hebron. Even though there is a purposeful separateness, it is implied that through Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca (Genesis 24:67), daughter of Bethuel (Abraham’s nephew), Sarah’s tent is filled with love again. Not only in this new union is there love, but Isaac is comforted from the loss of his mother. Love becomes the salve for his grieving.

Abraham also remarries to Keturah and has more children. While his bond to Sarah remains unbroken, made clear in his blessing of their children and his eventual burial beside her in the cave in Hebron, Abraham chooses life. He chooses love. He chooses community. He and his family are resilient.

And what I find the most profound, the most beautifully haunting about this story of life after Sarah’s passing, is that it is entitled “The Life of Sarah.” The movements of her beloveds after her death are written as a testament to her life. She is a memory that lights the way for them. Her memory truly is for a blessing.

Who or what lights the way for us now?

What blesses the path before us?

It can be challenging to draw connections to a world far more ancient than the one we reside in today. Yet, the power of sacred text lies in elements of the human condition staying constant. Whatever bereaves us has the ability to become the compost for our future. That is a gift of resilience, the alchemy of loss.

In a time in which humanity has experienced such great unknowns and isolation, we are reminded that we have walked this road before. Within the stories of who we are and where we come from are the blueprints for how we can live both with loss and love, which ultimately will empower us to keep living. Never forgetting, but also granting us the permission to live fully, with devotion and joy.

L’chaim and Shabbat shalom.

Isabel Mares is the program manager, Development and Arts and Culture, at JCC Association of North America.

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