Archive for the '1.05 Chaye Sarah' Category

Once I was7 Years Old: Chaye Sarah

At the beginning of Chaye Sarah, this week’s Torah portion, we learn of Sarah’s passing away. We read:

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her.( Genesis 23:1-2)

It seems strange that the text does not just say that Sarah was 127 when she died. On this Rashi quotes the Midrash which says:

The reason that the word “years” was written after every digit is to tell you that every digit is to be expounded upon individually: when she was one hundred years old, she was like a twenty-year-old regarding sin. Just as a twenty-year-old has not sinned, because she is not liable to punishment, so too when she was one hundred years old, she was without sin. And when she was twenty, she was like a seven-year-old as regards to beauty. (Genesis Rabbah 58:1)

Reaching the end of life makes one reflect about all of life’s stages.

This Midrash reminds me of 7 Years Old by Lukas Graham. Check out the video:

It is worth a reading all the lyrics of this song with the Midrash in mind. But for now I wanted to focus on:

Soon I’ll be 60 years old, will I think the world is cold
Or will I have a lot of children who can warm me
Soon I’ll be 60 years old

Once I was seven years old, my mama told me
Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely
Once I was seven years old

With the passing of time we cycle through our ages, stages, wishes, and aspirations. The wisdom of our elders is that they see the lives that they have lived in hindsight. The beauty of our youth is that we do not know how much we will mess up along the way. It is noteworthy in the song that at the beginning and end of life we are motivated to not be alone. Rashi also comments on the years of the life of Sarah, “All of them equally good.” We should all be blessed to live every stage of life equally full of good deeds and better company.

-Merry Turkey

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The Inception of Blessing

One of my favorite movies was Inception. It is a fanciful science fiction movie in which a thief who steals corporate secrets through use of the dream-sharing technology is given the inverse task of stealthily planting an idea into the mind of a CEO. (Yes you should drop everything and watch this movie if you have not yet seen it.) What does it mean to give someone an idea without them even knowing it?

Image result for Inception

I was thinking about this idea recently when reading Chaye Sarah, this week’s Torah portion. There we read, “And Avraham gave all that he had to Yitzhak ” (Genesis 25:5). We learn in the the Midrash that Avraham had already given all of his property to Yitzhak (Genesis Rabbah 61:6).  So what did Avraham give Yitzhak? Rashi explains:

Rabbi Nechemiah said: He gave him his right to dispense blessing, for the Holy One, blessed be God, had said to Avraham (Genesis 12:2)“ and you shall be a blessing,” i.e., the blessings are delivered into your hand to bless whomever you wish. And Avraham gave them over to Yitzhak.

So here we are at the end of Avraham’s life and he imparts to Yitzhak the ability to dispense blessing. The very nature of an idea of blessing is in of itself a profound idea.  Giving blessings seems less like a special media or magical power and more like an inner realization. If you can conceive blessing you can give blessing.  Avraham was the person who first person who conceived being Jewish, here we see the inception of being able to give a blessing. Though I do wonder where I got this idea.

Little Becky : Feeling at Home for the First Time

Years ago I heard a story of a girl named Becky. She grew up in a small town where she was the only Jewish child. She had many friends, but she was still a little lonely. There was part of her that yearned to be with others who shared her faith, practices, culture, and history. From her earliest days she remembered her family telling that there was a place for her to be with her people. So when she was old enough she decided to go there. She went with someone who had been there before  who took her to this special place. As her companion saw the sites signaling that they were getting close Becky echoed that person’s excitement.  By the time she got there her heart was palpitating. The minute her foot hit the ground she felt at home for the first time in a place she had never been before.

For any of us who grew up going to camp we can relate to little Becky.  Even today there is a special feeling going up to camp that reminds me of that first time I stepped off that bus so many years ago.  I was privileged to grow up in a large Jewish community attending a Jewish day school. Thinking about Becky I think about my camp friends who grew up in the coal-mining communities  in Pennsylvania. For them it was transformational to live in a vibrant Jewish community of their peers. Seeing their experiences enriched mine. I never took camp for granted and it made me love that community even more. Jewish camp is that home that we need desperately need for the next generation.

The only other place that I have had this kind of experience of homecoming to a place I had not been previously is Israel. So, it will not be surprising if you were to learn that the place she went in little Becky’s story was Israel. It might surprise you that this story is actually taken from Chaye Sarah, this week’s Torah portion. Truly years ago, it is the story of Rivka Imeynu, Rebecca our Matriarch. She left the place she grew up to come home to the land of Canaan. Echoing Abraham’s answering God’s call of Lech Lecha-  to Go, Rivka says”Ailech- I will go” (Genesis 24:58). Following in his footsteps she goes home to a place she has never been before.  It makes me think of Rainer Maria Rilke the German poet when we said,“The only journey is the one within.” We are a nation of seekers.

Falling in Love

He was bubbling over with excitement. He had heard so much about this place. This was his first time away from home. And somehow he knew that his life was going to be different after coming here. While he knew that he was going to miss his family, he was excited to make new friends, and yes he was excited to possibly meet a special someone. As they arrived he could not stay in his seat.

I am sure that this story rings true for you if you remember going to camp for the first time. All of the excitement, all of those expectations of what that summer has in store. As the bus lurched forward you felt yourself opening up to the people on the bus. You were hardly able to sit in your seat as the bus pulled off the main road and you saw that first sign for your camp. You had never been there before, but as you pulled in you knew that you were home.

While this is my story of going to camp for the first time, this definitely echoes what I heard from my eldest son after his first summer at camp, or at least what I got out of him. Similarly, the story of Rebecca that we read in last week’s Torah portion says:

Then Rebecca and her maids got ready and mounted their camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebecca and left. Now Isaac had come from Be’er Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. And Rebecca lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she fell off the camel. (Genesis 24:61- 64)

Rebecca was that first happy camper coming “home.” She fell in love at first sight. Just as I fell in love as a camper. It was not with a person – those crushes and relationships came and went. It was not with that place, even though it will endure in my memory as a place filled with kiddusha, holiness.  I fell in love with who I was at camp.

Many years ago my camp supervisor mailed me the following story:

Once there was a Rebbe who had a Yeshiva. His son studied in the Yeshiva. One day the son took off the afternoon to go walking in the forest. The father said nothing. But over time the son took to taking off every afternoon to walk in the forest. At this point the father realized that he needed to confront his son. The Rebbe said to his son, “I hear that you are walking in the forest every afternoon. Why are you doing this?” The son replied that he was looking for God. The Rebbe was puzzled and asked, “Did I not teach you that God is the same everywhere?” The son replied, “Abba, I know that God is the same everywhere, but I am not.”

When and where in my life was I more open to being all of whom I aspired to become? It was when I got off that bus for the first time, and it was at camp.

While I love the place and I love that time in my life, I realize that I owe a lot to my counselors. More than what I saw in them as role models, it was what my role models saw in me when I tumbled off that bus. They shared with me a glimpse of the person that I am still working on becoming. And that is why I fell in love with camp.

– Reposted from the Canteen

Bringing Sexy Back

A number of years ago my seminary had the fortune of hosting Dr. Ruth Wertheimer. There she stood in her four-foot-glory towering over us and our embarrassment in talking about sex. She seemed to have an answer to every question that we asked her, but one. I asked her if she has given any thought to the plight of intermarriage in the Jewish community. Her response was that this was our problem. The rabbis would have to deal with it. Was she right? Assuming it is a problem who should be thinking about the solution? Is it just an issue of public policy to be pondered by rabbis and Jewish educators?

Years later, I still think that there is something that a scholar of sex could have to say about what it takes to help a Jew find another Jew sexy. What do we look for in a mate? A common response is that we are looking for a partner who shares our interests and who we find sexy. I would venture to say that we want them to be the same as us, but that what we find them sexy for the very reason that they are different from us.

While it is not the whole answer, I would offer that we take a look at Chayei Sarah, this week’s Torah portion. There we read how Rebecca and Yitzhak became a couple. While it ends with a very romantic scene of them being in love, the beginning is not exactly a scintillating encounter. Their romance is arranged and contracted before they meet. Avraham demands of his servant,

Swear to me by God, Lord of heaven and earth that you will not take a wife for my son from among the people in whose midst I dwell. Rather go to my land, my birthplace, and take a wife for my son, for Yitzhak.(Genesis 24:2-3)

The language here is striking: Avraham explicitly uses the terms “Artzi” and “Moladati”, “my land” and “my birthplace,” which God used in the very opening line of Avraham’s story in parashat Lech Lecha: “And God said to Avram: ‘Get up and go out of your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house unto the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). It is a revealing remark; though Avraham has made Canaan his new homeland it is not home. Avraham still views the land that he came from as the appropriate place from where a daughter-in-law should come. Yitzhak has lived his entire life in Canaan but he still falls in love with someone from his father’s home town.

Avraham’s plan is to find his son a mate who has some of his son’s qualities, but whom he will find sexy because she has had a different upbringing. While I would not suggest that we ask our parents to set us up with our prospective mates, I would suggest that we all need to investigate our specific Jewish background. Learning about our family’s background will help clarify our values and the ones we want a partner to help share with the next generation.  I know that none of our backgrounds are as homogeneous as we think. I am not sure how, but I know that we need to figure out how to bring sexy back. Dr. Ruth admitted that she would have to think about it. I would love your thoughts.

Phranz Kaphka

I am a  fan of Franz Kafka. For me he optimizes the ideals of what it means to be Jewish beyond the limitations of Halacha. From his writing we see that he was totally in tune with the human condition, extremely alienated from society, and hugely creative. Once asked about his being Jewish Kafka responded, “What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself”

Avraham declared, “I am a stranger and a dweller with you; give me a burial place with you so I may bury my dead before me” (Genesis 23:4). Rashi explained this verse, “I am a stranger and a dweller with you – a stranger from a different land that has settled with you.” Kafka was a voice for the modern Avraham. It is as if he took the next logical step in intrepting what it meant to be Ger V’Toshav. Pushing us to realized in the modern world we need to deal with the depths of alienation.

Recently my son Yadid used a perminant marker on a piece of furnature. I was upset to see it, but it was hard to punish him when when I saw what he wrote. Who was I going to blame?

I am Not my selph

A Love to Live

In Chaye Sarah ,this week’s Torah portion, we focus on finding a partner for Yitzhak. We read,

And Avraham was old, well stricken in age; and the LORD had blessed Avraham in all things. And Avraham said unto his servant, the elder of his house, that ruled over all that he had: ‘Put, I pray of you, your hand under my thigh. And I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. (Genesis 24:1-3)

While I would be interested to discuss issues in intermarriage with anyone, right now I am more interested in the Torah going out of its way to tell us that Avraham is getting on in his years.  In the end of this chapter we read,

“And Yitzhak brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rivka, and she became his wife; and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for his mother. “ (Genesis 24:67)

It seems that the Sarah was a source of love in their house. Then the Torah goes on to report that Avraham gets remarried and has more children. It does not seem that Avraham was in fact that old, but it does seem purposeful that the love of Yitzhak and Rivka is framed by the life of Avraham.

Could Avraham not move on until Yitzhak had moved on? Would Yitzhak have doubted his parents love? Or maybe, there was an urgency for him to find a partner for himself once Yitzhak left home. Avraham might have been inspired by having an empty nest to find a new life partner. It is also possible that Avraham had forgotten what love was about until he saw the love between the Yitzhak and Rivka. In this light, it seems that Avraham’s getting remarried is actually a testament to his love of Sarah. Love might not be eternal, but it does give you something for which to live.


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