Parashat Chayei Sarah – Erev Shabbat 22 November 2019
Week of 17-23 November 2019
Torah portion: Gen. 23:1-25:18 Haftarah: 1 Kgs. 1:1-31
Theme: : Passing on to the next life, passing on to the next generations

In this parashah and haftarah, we can notice a parallelism of “passing on.” On both accounts, there is a mention of characters passing on to the next life: Sarah at the beginning of the parashah and Abraham at the end, while the haftarah recounts the event of the last days of David. However, we can also notice that the stories are not merely stories of characters passing on to the next life but stories that involve an act of passing on to the next generation things of value: land, security, family, kingship.

In the parashah, we need to be reminded, as what Rabbi Sacks also notes, that G-d called Abraham to leave his homeland to settle in a strange land which G-d will give him and his descendants as an inheritance (Gen 12:1). Yet in the parashah, he did not have any piece of land to call his own, that he even had to prostate himself before the Hittites, pay a hefty price just to have a burial site for Sarah. Likewise, in the same promise, God promised that Abraham will become the father of many nations. Yet in the parashah, we notice that the promise was not yet fulfilled and that he even had to make his servant Eliezer promise to find Isaac a wife, and thus for Isaac to establish a family. At the twilight of his life, Abraham still lives in the uncertainty of whether G-d’s promise will be fulfilled, yet he soldiers on. He sees to it that he passes on to Isaac even just a hint of the fulfillment of the promise: a parcel of land, and a promise of continuity, a wife.

On the other hand, in the haftarah, David is now advanced in age and we can very well say that despite his misgivings in the past, he is in a well-off position: he is still the king of a great nation, with power and wealth at his disposal. These he passes on to the next generation, but not without conflict. His sons, Solomon and Adonijah, and their allies are caught up in a power struggle, of dividing the inheritance even before he actually dies.

Here we can find a glaring difference between the manner of the passing on of the two characters. Abraham, passes on a tiny flicker of hope to his descendants coming from a place of want, of a promise yet to be fulfilled. He passes on a piece of land, and his act of helping his son find a wife. David passes on a kingdom, power, and wealth. David however passes on these valuables in a situation of conflict among his children, a power struggle, even of violence. Abraham passes these on and passes on with his sons’ reconciliation, marked by seeing Isaac and Ishmael being together to bury their father. Fishbane comments that “Abraham and David represent two distinct models of aging.” He ages and dies with harmony, peace, wholeness. His death ends with the reconciliation of his sons. David, on the other hand, as Fishbane notes, “enters old age more catastrophically. . . David’s ‘fullness’ (kol) is one of will and conceit, far removed from the noble ‘wholeness’ of Abraham.”

Taking this to our own experience, we go through the process of receiving what the earlier generation has passed on to us, and eventually, we will pass on what we hold valuable to the next generation. In this process of receiving and passing on, we look at how we as individuals, as communities and as societies pass on, what we pass on, what remains after we have passed on. We hope that the legacy we leave is that of shalom, of fullness, of wholeness, like that of Abraham.

For Reflection and Discussion: [1] What kind of family, community, society do we pass on to the future generations? [2] By imagining we are at our life’s end, how would the next generation remember us?

Bibliography: Michael Fishbane, “Haftarah for Chayyei Sarah” in The JPS Bible Commentary Haftarot (Philadephia, 2002), 34; Jonathan Sacks, “A Journey of a Thousand Miles,” in Covenant and Conversation Chayei Sarah 5777 (http://rabbisacks.org/journey-thousand-miles-chayei-sarah-5777/).

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