By Rabbi Tsurah August
Parshat Chayei Sarah
Oh, Mother Sarah!
During this time of high anxiety in our country, especially the weeks leading up to the election, I have been calling upon my ancestors for love and guidance. I do not know their names beyond five or six generations. Yet I call upon them, trying to reach them through the veils of time. I need them.
As I sat down to finalize my thoughts on the day before our presidential election, my mind took a different turn from what I had planned to say. I found myself calling out to Mother Sarah, for her love and guidance, as I faced my fear of having such an uncertain future. Why you, Sarah?
We read so little of you in Torah, yet you have inspired volumes of midrashim, poems, songs, chants, niggunim, rituals, dance, stories — and names. Many Jewish women have been given your name, which has been passed down to our female offspring for generations upon generations. I, too, bear your name. Your name gives honor to many Jewish institutions and organizations. We revere you.
It is fitting that this week’s parshah bears your name, although it takes place after your death, opening with your burial and mourning. Shiva. The time when we remember our deceased through prayers, rituals and stories of their lives. Chayei Sarah. The Life of Sarah.
During the period of mourning for Sarah, did Abraham and Isaac share stories extolling only your virtues? Or did they, like Torah does, also share stories of your anger, jealousy, your “tests”? What are the stories that Abraham and Isaac didn’t tell, didn’t know? The stories of how you endured, and endured and endured. The stories that made you a woman who could laugh at Divine Proclamations, instead of cursing the timing.
You were not a saint, Sarah. That is why it is you to whom I call out, in my fear, my anger, my lack of faith — I feel you know me. Empathize with me in my angst in this tumultuous time. Have compassion for me and all people facing an uncertain world, as you did.
In the bereavement group I facilitated the day after the election, thinking of you, Sarah, I asked the participants to bring one of their ancestors to mind, someone whom they felt gave them a strength that was needed in this tense time, and then to share it in the form of a blessing.
Such guidance, kindness, comfort and vision poured forth! And you, Sarah, your blessing was there, too. There, not just coming from you, but through you, as it has done for millennia.
Sarah, Mother Sarah, your life continues in our lives — not only in our creative midrashim, but in our bodies, minds and spirits. In our ability to laugh. Laugh through tears and heartache, disbelief and joy. Laugh for the sheer pleasure of being alive. Your life continues in our aspirations, our grandest achievements and in our failures, our anger, jealousy, despair, confusion. In our determination, our endurance to take the next step. And the next. And the next. For Life!
Chaya Sarah: Thank you for answering in me this week helping me take the next step. And the next. l
Rabbi Tsurah August is the chaplain for Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide diverse perspectives on Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Board of Rabbis.