We all will die. It is a natural part of living, the same as birth is essential to life. This is our lot.
What makes the difference is what we do between birth and death.
Years ago, I was puzzled as to why this parasha should be called Chayyei Sarah — the life of Sarah. Back then I somehow expected to read about Sarah’s lifetime, not her death and burial. Today, I understand the parasha (as noted in Eitz Hayyim) as marking the transition from one generation to the next.
During Yiskor at Yom Kippur this year, our congregation dedicated nine new memorial plaques — almost 10 percent of the families at Parkway Jewish Center. And there were others we lost for whom plaques have not yet been placed.
It has been a hard year for us, and we mourned with great stress and all too often throughout 5768. And then we started 5769 with yet another loss — one of our board members.
This week’s parasha uses a scant two sentences to report the first death and burial in Jewish history. “Sarah’s lifetime — the span of Sarah’s life — came to one hundred and twenty-seven years. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba — now Hebron — in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead. …”
Our ancestor Abraham — the first Jew and father of three great religions — set the template that the entire Jewish community follows to this day. We mourn and then we rise up from our mourning,
We continue with life and the necessities of living. For Avraham Avinu, the first order of business was securing the Cave of Machpelah as a burial site for Sarah (and later, for himself). The second order of business was to secure the future of his generations by securing a suitable wife for his son Isaac. Only then, did Avraham consider himself, taking Keturah as wife and mother of his subsequent children.
At Avraham’s death, his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, reunited and reconciled, settling their own personal conflicts with their father. Together, they buried Avraham in the same cave with Sarah.
As did Avraham Avinu, the family of Parkway Jewish Center rose from each of our mournings. Each individual family — surrounded by their family and the PJC family — remembered the life lost and the pathways each were taught to follow.
And then, rooted in our tradition, each of us continued with the business of life. If you will forgive a personal reference, my own father’s (z”l) last words speak volumes. My sister brought the mail to him every day in the hospital; Dad’s final, raspy words to us were “throw away the junk mail; pay the bills!”
May we go from strength to strength, with the ability to know the difference between our junk and our obligations.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.