The Life of Sarah

November 6, 2015

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, November 6, 2015.

The Life of Sarah

This week’s Torah Portion, Chayei Sarah – The Life of Sarah –  starts out with the death and burial of the Matriarch Sarah, the wife of Abraham. The actual burial resonates with us to this day. Abraham purchases the Cave of the Machpelah in what is now Hebron from his Hittite neighbor. During the negotiation, Abraham refers himself as a Ger-Toshav … a stranger/alien – resident. We are told:

And then Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah... in the land of Canaan. Thus the field with its cave passed from the Hittites to Abraham, as a burial site. (Genesis 23:19-20)

Later in the same Torah Portion, we’re told that his two sons Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham in that same cave/burial site. Even later, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, and Leah were all buried there, making it the second holiest site for Jews, second only to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The cosmic resonance of this story is that it is a holy site for the Muslims as well who venerate Abraham as their patriarch through Ishmael. One site, two peoples, two holy contexts. Yet... in spite of its holiness, it is the scene of tension and even violence. It is restricted by the Israeli authorities as to who (Jew or Muslim) may visit – when it is open to Jews, and when to Muslims. Isaac and Ishmael were able to enter it together for the common purpose of burying their father, but it doesn’t seem possible for their Jewish and Muslim descendants.  Rather than a symbol of holiness, it has become a symbol of strife and rage. We can only hope that sometime in the (hopefully) not too distant future, the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael might find a way to live together.

The Cave of Machpelah

Shabbat Shalom