Parashat Hashavua for Chayei Sarah
Rabbi Jeffrey B Kamins
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW
In this week’s parasha, Chayei Sarah, we move toward the fulfilment of the brit, God’s promise to Avraham and Sarah that they will be the progenitors of a nation of blessing in the Promised Land one day to be known as Israel. They have struggled for decades to see this promise fulfilled. In the two preceding parshiyot dealing with their lives (Lech lecha and Vayera), they have travelled from Ur to Haran to the land of Canaan, down to Egypt and back, only to have to divide the land with their nephew Lot. Avraham has had to go to war to rescue Lot. Avraham and Sarah have suffered from infertility, leading to Avraham’s having a child with Sarah’s handmaid Hagar, and further conflict. Eventually Hagar’s child Ishmael and Sarah’s child Yitzchak must be separated, before Avraham binds an apparently willing Yitzchak on the altar in one of the most confronting dramas in human literature. All these traumas form the background to this week’s parasha, which opens with Sarah’s death and closes with the death of Avraham.
In between these deaths two significant events occur, revealing the gradual unfolding of God’s promise. Avraham purchases a burial plot for Sarah in Hebron, the first acquisition of land by our ancestors in Canaan. Then, a new generation is made possible as Avraham ensures that a wife will be found for Yitzchak; the strong and generous Rivkah even comes from his family, let alone homeland. Thus, before he dies Avraham transmits the brit to the next generation. It will take hundreds more years and a good span of time in slavery before a nation is born and the rest of the Promised Land is acquired. Avraham and Sarah, however, have performed their essential part in the brit between God and human.
We learn through Avraham and Sarah how to understand both our role in transmitting the brit and our place in the life’s unfolding. We may have big dreams, our own “Promised Land” for which we strive – yet the lesson of our ancestors is that even if we encounter stumbling blocks and be unable to achieve all for which we dream in our lifetime, we must maintain our vision and do our best walk that path as we pass the baton to the next generation. Each of us has been bequeathed the promise of the initial brit of our ancestors: to be part of a special people, with a Promised Land and a mission to bring justice and goodness to this world. We must take responsibility for being a link in the chain of tradition, remembering, “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” We must not be despondent when world, social or economic factors deter us from accomplishing our goals. Rather, like Avraham and Sarah, we must continue to “walk before God”, never losing our vision, never being deterred from our purpose.