Abraham, Sarah model the good life

Rabbi Josef A. Davidson serves Congregation B’nai Amoona.

By Rabbi Josef A. Davidson

As I age, I find myself reading the Torah through an entirely different set of lenses. I find the people whose stories are told in the text to be much more human and their experiences much more universal. 

That is certainly the case with this week’s Torah portion, Chayyei Sarah. The deaths of Sarah and Abraham frame the Parashah, first Sarah’s in the opening lines and then Abraham’s as the portion comes to an end. This Torah portion offers an excellent opportunity to take the measure of each of their lives, individually and as “the first couple” of the Jewish people. 

Together, Abraham and Sarah lived both exciting and mundane lives and faced a number of trials and tribulations over their years together. They relocated to a strange, new land where they settled among people who were quite different from those among whom they had lived in their early, formative years. 

They found themselves in a position where they suddenly had to develop a complete independence, not only because they were far away from other family, but also because they brought with them an entirely different framework for life. This framework was based on a unique belief in a single Creator God who cared how people acted toward one another. 

In a very inhospitable environment, they practiced hospitality to strangers and maintained a great deal of loyalty to the one family member who made the journey with them, even if it meant going into battle. 

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At the same time, there was conflict within the family, with Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and among Sarah, her handmaid Hagar and Abraham. They struggled with infertility, with infidelity, with jealousies. When, in their old age, they finally had a son of their own, Sarah became especially protective of him. This, according to the Midrash, is why she died immediately after Isaac had a near death experience at the hands of her husband. 

Their struggles throughout their lives are our struggles, too. Many of us have also faced the same trials and tribulations throughout the course of our lives or may yet. We, too, may find ourselves feeling isolated from sources of support such as family and may feel as if we are swimming against the stream at times as Jews in a secular or non-Jewish society.  

On the other hand, we, too, have aspirations for the next generation, whether we bring them into the world when we are younger or older, which may or may not be realized during the course of our lifetimes. Sarah, for example, did not live to see Isaac happily married, as this was arranged by Abraham after her death. Abraham may not have been alive when Jacob and Esau were born to Isaac and Rebecca. This, too, is a part of the human experience. History continues to evolve, even if we are no longer a part of it.

Abraham plans well for the future. He purchases a piece of land from the Hittites as a burial plot. He sends his servant to find a suitable life partner for his son Isaac. He remarries and has more children, to whom he gives gifts during his lifetime and reserves the main inheritance for Isaac. Through these actions he makes certain that Isaac and his progeny will have a stake in the land that had been promised to Abraham by God and does the best that he can to ensure that the beliefs, the values and the life that he and Sarah established will be passed on to future generations.

This, too, is what many of us will do. We do the best that we can to inculcate in our children values, beliefs and a way of life that will stand them in good stead and which will be worthy of passing on to their children. We endeavor to serve as good role models for our children and for any with whom we come into contact over the course of our lives. We may leave the world with some things undone, and we may leave before we have seen the fruits of our labors mature and develop, but we try to leave with people rehearsing our lives, as was the case with Sarah, whose life is recalled in the opening words of the Parashah rather than her death (Chayyei Sarah means “the life of Sarah”). 

Abraham and Sarah not only model the good life but live very human lives, lives with which we all can identify.