Parshat Chayei Sarah
This week’s Torah portion, although named the life of Sarah opens with news of her death and the purchase of her burial place in the Cave of Machpelah which you can still visit in Hebron, Israel.
Today let us remember our great Mother –Sarah who was first of the four Matriarchs of Sarah.
In Jewish tradition at a funeral we give a hesped. This corresponds to a eulogy where we share memories, stories and try to reflect on the life of the individual. However there is a difference between a hesped and a eulogy. Eulogy comes from the root word for praise and so a eulogy is to praise the life of the deceased. In Jewish tradition a hesped , really means “tell it like it was”. So praise is not the major component of our thoughts and remembrances of the deceased.
I imagine that if we were to be at Sarah’s funeral we might hear the following hesped of Sarah.
Dear friends and family we have come today to lay to rest the body of Sarah here in Hebron. Sarah was 127 years old. Her birthday was just a few months ago. And even though her years were advanced she was sharp as a tack and still lived a full life. She recently came here to Hebron having left her tent in Beershevah. So her death came as a tragic and sudden shock to us all. She was the First wife of Abraham, mother of Ishmael and Isaac, blessed by God. And our hearts go out to all of the family.
Sarah was born in Ur and went to Haran where she grew up with you Abraham. She was your niece and you married and she followed your dreams-to resettle in Cannan. She was a loyal wife and ran your household with cheer.
Sarah was a strong woman both physically and spiritually. She was a loyal wife to Abraham. So much so when she knew she couldn’t have children of her own she gave Abraham Hagar her servant so they could have a surrogate mother for their child. Barrenness didn’t stop Sarah. She was always involved in the family business together bringing more and more people into the fold.
One of the great moments in Sarah’s life was when God changed her name. God had previously done so with her husband whom she first knew as Abram but when he made the solemn commitment to the covenant God proposed, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Sarai’s name was subsequently changed to Sarah upon the promise of her carrying a child. Both included in this new covenant.
Sarah had a great sense of humor and a hearty laugh. She kept the whole family on their toes with her cynic’s eye and her spirit of welcome. She was a good cook. And she loved to entertain. Often she would host the travelers who stopped by the tent. Abraham you called out to Sarah, “Let us welcome these strangers with cakes and provide water to wash their tired and dusty feet.” And Sarah would rush to make them feel at home. She was a real balabusta!
Once when three special travelers came on their journey they brought unbelievable news they revealed that Sarah would become pregnant at an advanced age. Sarah wasn’t exactly in the main welcome tent but overheard the men’s conversation. With her usual cynic’s edge she laughed so heartily that the whole encampment stopped to find out what was going on! But lo and behold, when the travelers returned a year later Sarah had given birth to her own child, she gave birth at the age of 90 and in honor of that laughter named him Isaac!
She was so blessed that miracles occurred for her.
Isaac you were the apple of her eye. And she tried to protect you from. But Sarah’s jealous side came out and sadly she ordered you Abraham to remove your first child Ishmael and his birth mother, Hagar from the household. I know that this affected the whole family. I don’t know if Sarah regretted her actions. But I know one of the reasons she came to Hebron was because she thought you had retaliated by taking Isaac away on your recent trip to Mt. Moriah without telling her.
I know she began to think that sending Ishmael and Hagar out into the wilderness was wrong. She saw how it broke your heart. And it broke her heart. But following God’s call to nearly sacrifice your birth child with her, Isaac brought her great sadness and grief. And it filled her with remorse for what she had done. She felt as if you willing were taking revenge upon her. Sarah came here to search for you and Isaac. She came to find Hagar and Ishmael and ask forgiveness. But the news of Isaac’s near sacrifice I think shocked her to death. She realized how she and her family had been shattered. And it grieved her greatly.
And now we grieve and mourn for her. We give thanks for her courage to travel to the Promised Land to step into unknown cultures and situations. We give thanks for her fierceness and following God’s call. We give thanks for her commitment to hospitality of the strangers. We give thanks for her ability to forgive and to seek forgiveness. She was truly a pioneer. May her memory live for a blessing.