Parshat Chayei Sarah Genesis 23:1 – 25:18
In this week’s parshah, each member of Avraham’s family undergoes a fundamental transition: Sarah dies, Yitzchak and Rivkah meet and marry, Avraham dies, Yitzchak is acknowledged as the next in the chain of covenanted patriarchs, and Yishmael comes to bury his father and is also designated a father of nations.
For all the fundamental human experiences that this clan undergoes in a few short chapters, there is precious little communication among its members: Avraham and Yitzchak never speak again after the traumatic events on Mount Moriah; and the last words between Avraham and Sarah are over the banishment of Hagar (for the second time!) and Yishmael to the desert. There is not one word of dialogue recorded in the Torah between Sarah and her precious son, Yitzhak. There is also no conversation recorded between the half-brothers, Yitzchak and Yishmael.
A psychologist studying the family dynamics of Avraham’s clan might catego-rize this family as dysfunctional. But for all their silence, the family of Avraham does achieve some appropriate and even impressive interaction. Due honor is paid to both Sarah and Avraham after their deaths; Yitzchak truly loves his Rivkah; and the half-brothers, Yitzchak and Yishmael, apparently find a way to work in harmony when the situation demands.
Avraham’s grief over Sarah’s death is described in few, and powerful, words. We are convinced his grief is genuine. Yitzchak is not consoled for the loss of his mother until Rivkah comes into his life.
A powerful moment in this emotionally intense portion is contained in one verse: “[Avraham’s] sons Yitzchak and Yishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah.” How significant — after all the jealousy, banishment and competition — that these two half-brothers are named in the same breath and come to-gether to bury their father.
The moment is a fitting tribute to Avraham, for aside from his unshakeable faith in God, his other great attribute was as a seeker of peace, principle and compromise. He made peace with Lot. He bar-gained for the lives of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. He made peace with Avimelech. He wanted to resist sending Hagar and Yishmael into the wilderness. Aside from his successful military campaign against the kings who invaded from the East, we see Avraham as a gentle man, avoiding conflict and treasuring life.
We cannot help but sense the spirit of Avraham inspiring his two sons to seek peace themselves — between the two of them and in their relations with others. For all the animosity that their births and subsequent histories could have engendered, we hear of no conflict between the brothers themselves. And according to the Torah itself, they came together in quiet dignity to bury the father who loved them both.
In these times, when peace between the children of Yitzchak and the children of Yishmael seems so tantalizingly close and then so heartbreakingly far, we must all imbue our attitudes and actions with the spirit of our ancestor Avraham, the seeker of peace and compromise.
The Grace After Meals is one of the most beautiful pieces of liturgy we have. We ex-press our gratitude for the abundance of blessings God has bestowed on us — sustenance, land, a spiritual center, hope for the future. There is a section in which we ask God, the Merciful One, to provide us with continued guidance, with an honorable living, with the freedom of spirit and ultimate deliverance. There is room here, I think, for one more request — one that we owe to our peace-seeking patriarch, Avra-ham: May the Merciful One cause peace to dwell among the children of Yitzchak and the children of Yishmael.
Rabbi Amy Levin is the interim rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom. This col-umn is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.