Weekly Torah Commentary – Chaya Sarah November 10, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 23:1-25:18

Haftorah reading:  I Kings: 1-31

Moses writes, “Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.”  Genesis 23:1-2

As commentators over the centuries have noted, Sarah is the only woman in the Bible whose age at the time of her death is revealed. At 127 she is no young woman. But the death of Sarah would have seemed untimely because of her apparent youthfulness. Even at the age of ninety she was a woman attractive enough to catch the eye of King Abimelech (20:1-2). Was she the original Mrs. Oil of Olay? Her youthfulness and beauty would have certainly concealed the fact that death was coming upon her.

Abraham mourned and wept, meaning that in addition to the crying he went through the traditional mourning customs of his day: tearing clothes, cutting his beard, spreading dust on his head, and spending the seven days of mourning which have been traditional in the Middle East from the most ancient times. We read in Genesis 50 that when Jacob died and was buried in Hebron, his family mourned him for another 7 days. This tradition is still followed today in Jewish homes around the world.

Sarahdies

Genesis 23:2 is the first record of a man’s tears in the Bible. It is fitting that it should be a husband weeping and mourning over the death of his loyal wife of 60 years. It is remarkable that this is the only time we are ever told that Abraham wept. He had been through so many bitter disappointments and heartaches in his life: He was disappointed when Lot left him (13:5-12). He was heartbroken when he sent Ishmael away (21:9-14). He was devastated when he had to offer Isaac (22:1-10). But the only time the Scriptures reveal that he wept was when Sarah died. This reveals the depth of his grief and love for this woman.

The death of a loved one has always been a time to think about eternal realities. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” In light of this eventuality, two of the most profound and beneficial questions I think we can ask ourselves are:

(1) How do you want to be remembered at your funeral?

(2) What steps do you need to take for that to happen?

Abraham recognized and believed that God’s promises are still in the future. Sarah’s death may well have reminded him that there were still others of God’s promises for him to receive.  He could also have been reminded that his death may not be very far away for he was older than Sarah.

This could have been be a deeply trying moment for Abraham’s faith. Yet the scripture demonstrates that he continued to believe faithfully for the future and act accordingly, despite many difficulties. He expected God to fulfill every one of His promises whether he lived to see them all come to pass or not.

In this way, Abraham serves as an example to every generation since. We must have  faith for the future; we must have a confidence in God that goes beyond even this life for the fulfillment of His promises.  This is the faith that waits expectantly for the coming of Messiah.

In 23:3-6, Moses writes, “Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’ The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’” Abraham’ first words are “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you” (cf. Lev 25:23; 1 Chron 29:14-15; Ps 39:12).

Abraham refers to himself as a ‘stranger’ and a ‘sojourner’ because he realized that Canaan was not his final home. He was living for his future home beyond the grave in the world to come. Eternal life in the presence of God was a reality that dictated how he lived – by faith.  The prophet Habakkuk echoed Abraham’s guiding principle when he wrote: The just shall live by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)

Notice that the sons of Heth call Abraham “a mighty prince among us.” Apparently, Abraham’s influence counted for something.

How do you want to be remembered?

In Tune with Torah this week =  Are you so caught up with your life here and now that you don’t live with eternity in view? Our goal in this life is not to build up a sizable estate, but to live our life as a pilgrim on the way to our true home, the world which is to come.

Does your life influence others towards God? Or are you on a spiritual auto-pilot?

Are you stuck in a spiritual rut, doing what you’ve been doing for years but not demonstrating in your daily life that God is alive to you, that you are passionate about Him and seek His presence?

There is an old saying that people will drive from all over to see a fire burn. The same is true in regard to our congregational and personal lives: If we are allowing God to work in our lives, people will drive from all over to see someone on fire for God.

Why shouldn’t it be you?

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Nitzavim-Vayelech Sept. 18, 2014

Nitzavim/Vayelech Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30

See I have placed before you life and good, and death and evil … I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life so that you and your offspring will live.

This key verse in the Torah reading for the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana emphasizes God’s gift to us of free choice; the ability to choose between life and good or death and evil. Free choice is the fundamental human trait that enables us to serve God effectively.

The choice between good and evil is familiar to us all. Though morality has suffered decline in many contemporary societies, nevertheless, good and evil are fairly well recognized and our choice to do good and avoid evil is evident.

However,in the verse cited above, we are also given the ability to choose between life and death. At first glance that seems a bit strange. Other than those embroiled in terrorist philosophies, who would choose death? Why did God feel it necessary to command us to “choose life…”

When the Torah speaks of ‘death’ we need to understand that it is not referring solely to the state of no longer being alive on this earth. God is warning us against what death represents. Perhaps the easiest way to grasp this concept is to take a closer look at ‘life’.

Life in the Torah is much more than breathing; life is a journey, a process of growing into a spiritually mature person, developing moral character and becoming a viable ‘ambassador’ of God’s presence in the world. He created us in His image and His likeness; life is about growing into that very image and likeness so that people would learn what God is like by knowing you.

Being spiritually alive is about taking responsibility; facing challenges and problems and through them becoming better rather than bitter. That being the case, we can deduce that ‘choosing death’ is related to irresponsibility, laziness in dealing with issues, rejecting discipline and hard work and failing to mature. To live ‘spiritually dead’ is to choose comfort over effort, an easy life over a life full of challenge and growth.

We must also realize that choosing ‘death’ also impacts the way we serve God. Obeying His commandments and statutes mechanically or routinely without seeking an ever more intimate relationship with Him quickly degenerates into ‘dead’ religion. The greatest commandment is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your resources.” Every action, every good deed, every choice to obey God’s Word becomes powerless if not flowing from a heart of devoted love for the God of heaven.

This message is particularly appropriate as we approach Rosh Hashanah in the coming week. On these Holy days we are not only judged on our words, deeds and choices during the past year, we also face an evaluation on who we are as individuals.

It is possible to live an essentially lazy, comfortable life in a ‘religious’ way; following rules, traditions and customs on the outside without a flow of love pouring out of the heart. As we approach Rosh Hashana, the call to our souls is for an authentic spiritual connection that teaches us how to live from a position of overflowing grateful love towards God day by day.

In Tune with Torah this week = on this last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, it behooves us all to seriously examine ourselves, not with endless questions and lists but with one simple thought: am I closer to God now than I was last year at this time? Am I following Him more nearly than I was last year?

Shabbat Shalom to all of you.

If you’re looking for a Rosh Hashana gift for a friend or family member, allow me to recommend the volume entitled IN TUNE WITH TORAH, a collection of past year’s commentaries on the Torah.

Click here: