Drash on Parashat Chayei Sarah 2021

Drash on Parashat Chayei Sarah         

Rabbi Aviva Kipen
Progressive Judaism Victoria


In 2012, mapping of the journeys of Abraham and Sarah and their camp, I began with a nostalgic reference to the atlas of Moshe Davis and Isaac Levy. Their now-quaint artwork showed “roads” that were camel trails: ancient intersections that traced the bible narrative were the roadmaps of the biblical journeys of our Matriarchs and Patriarchs and those who came after them.

Roadmaps: they have a new meaning in 2021. We didn’t have a roadmap INTO Covid-19 but we have had multiple iterations of the roadmap OUT ….. the roadmaps out allow for more freedoms, for options for human encounter with greater and lesser degrees of risk. The multiple national and state roadmaps around the region show that there are several interpretations of what constitutes the best routes to take when life sends us challenges. 

Abraham and Isaac had journeyed to Mt Moriah for the Akedah, then return to the camp. Journeys that followed to Kiriyat Arba/Hebron, to the cave of Efron the Hitite for the burial of Sarah who died upon their return, were ordained by a higher authority than bureaucrats and politicians. But the outcomes may have felt just as precarious, despite God’s earlier reassurance (Gen 22:17) to Abraham that he would eventually have a future through generations yet to be conceived. This portion begins with Sarah’s death, the negotiation for a burial ground that remains revered to this day and the lesson that wherever Jewish communities establish themselves, their first institutions are a cemetery and the Chevra Kadisha to serve it.

 Abraham is also creating the resting place for himself and would have been clear-eyed in approaching his own mortality, undoubtedly also carrying the emotional reflection on his own Akedah experience and its traumatic impact, about which we do well to speculate. By Chapter 24, Abraham plans the next steps to propel the Jewish story forward. Isaac must have a wife from Ur, rather than from Canaan. The roadmap is to go forward, by returning a trusted slave (interestingly his name is not mentioned, which seems like a failure to credit the key member of the human cast) to Nahor (Gen 24:10), and to encounter Rivkah at the well. She must be prepared to go back to Hebron and start her life with Isaac as an ex pat, replicating the very journey Sarai and Abram had taken earlier. She was prepared to go, she believed in the opportunity. Having finally moved out of home, Isaac was living in the Negev, and was returning to his father’s encampment when – perhaps not accidentally – he caught his first glimpse of Rebekah.  (Gen 24:62)

There is a great irony in belief being the basis for life’s decisions.  Belief is a position of conviction but not necessarily a position of knowledge. Abraham believed that he was being called to take the life of his son and had to be loudly redirected by an Angel not to do so. Clearly, by inference, Sarah believed that her husband would have gone through with that, and that the deep trauma ended her life despite the fact that Isaac survived. Abraham believed that only a girl from his old family neighbourhood would do for Isaac. Thinking he had set the succession in place (and that fertility story is another in a long series that challenges the generational roadmaps of our ancestors), Abraham takes another wife, Keturah (Gen 25:1), whose many children set up the future tensions alongside the line of Hagar’s son Ishmael (verse 12) and Abraham dies (Gen 25:7-8).

For those who have been lost to Covid, we grieve for you and your loved ones. For those who have served the sick and supported those locked into varying degrees of isolation, we express our appreciation. Our portion grapples with death and transition. The point is to insist that the roads ahead must be travelled in order for there to be a future. There are many biblical roadmaps ahead for our ancestors as we retell their stories. Re-experiencing their journeys reminds us that we, too, tramp the roads of good options, risk and trust in the values of the God, who invites us to walk the better path each day.

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