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.


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 — Shoftim August 9, 2013

Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9
“Who is the man who is fearful and faint-hearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows to be like his heart.”

In this week’s portion the Torah commands anyone who is afraid of going to war to leave the battlefield and return to his home because of the negative influence that his fear will have on his fellow soldiers. The Sages derive from this that the basic meaning of this mitzvah is that we are to be very careful to avoid acting in any way that will have a negative influence on others.

Our actions do not take place in a vacuum. We are always being noticed by others, consequently it is our responsibility to constantly be aware of the possible effect we can have on others without even directly communicating with them. Remember the old adage, Actions speak louder than words? When we strive to have a positive effect on our fellowman through our behavior, we become an example that inspires. And when others grow spiritually because of that example, we share in their blessing in Olam Haba (the world to come). Rav Aaron Kotler notes that one who causes others to perform Mitzvot receives incredible reward for his deeds. “one can not imagine the great gain a person receives through this; he merits extra heavenly protection to not stumble in sin and also to a great number of merits, something which would have been impossible for him to achieve through his own free will.”

The greatest way we influence others is through loving them. We make the most important decisions of our lives based on who and what we love. What we might consider as a carefully thought out, logical major decision is never without its emotional aspect for we are emotional beings. Love changes the dynamic of our interactions with others.

Perhaps the second most important way we influence others for good is by listening to them. When we listen attentively, our behavior says to the other person, “I respect you. I care about you.” That, in turn, opens them up to receiving from us, whether in the form of a spoken encouragement or advice or by the example of how we live.

According to Dictionary.com, the word INFLUENCE when used as a noun is defined as “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.” INFLUENCE as a verb is “To move or impel (a person) to some action.”

So how do we improve in being a positive influence on others and refrain from being a negative one, as we read in this week’s parsha?

First of all, every person has influence on the lives of those around them. Whether our impact is direct or indirect, it behooves us to realize that no one acts in a vacuum. We are continually influencing those around us one way or another.

Secondly, exemplify personal responsibility and integrity. Be true to your word, be consistent. Be real and be honest. Be faithful to your values.

Thirdly, don’t pretend you’re perfect; you’re not. Take responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them. Don’t make excuses; make corrections. Others will respect you for it.

Fourthly, appreciate and recognize the efforts of those around you and thank them. We all want to be valued and appreciated. Your endorsement also has a ripple effect when a good deed or accomplishment is acknowledged publicly.

Fifthly, work at bringing out the best in others. Let your influence act as a catalyst to spark something within someone else. How many hundreds of accomplished people have noted that a certain teacher or a grandmother or a parent inspired them as a child or a teenager and they give credit to that influence for achievements in later life!

Lastly, care about other people’s feelings. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Influence only qualifies as leadership when you are more concerned with someone else reaching their potential than you are about how their work or action will affect you.

In Tune with Torah this week = on this first Shabbat of the month of Elul, there could not be a more appropriate issue to consider than this one. What kind of influence have I been on others during the past year? What can I do to have a more positive and uplifting influence on those around me in the new year to come?

Shabbat Shalom