Parshat Chayei Sarah: Perseverance in the Face of Grief

November 10, 2023
BBYO Weekly Parsha


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This week’s Parsha starts at a very low point, with the death of Sarah and her burial. This is preceded of course by Parashat Vayera which ends in the binding of Isaac, a very tragic and stress-inducing event in the life of Abraham. These dreadful things happening in such quick succession makes the following verse seem particularly out of place:  

“And Abraham was old, advanced in days, and the Lord had blessed Abraham with everything.”

This comes immediately after Sarah’s burial, at the start of the next chapter. Certainly Abraham was blessed in many ways, but at first glance it seems this sentence would be far better suited for a joyous occasion. Perhaps after the birth of Isaac or having arrived in the promised land. Why does the Torah celebrate all of Abraham’s blessings now? Surely this would have been a time of grief and great sadness. But in fact, after this Abraham proceeds to send Eliezer off to find a wife for Isaac and the only time grief is even mentioned in the Torah portion is towards the end when it says that Rebecca comforted Isaac in the loss of his mother. Where is Abraham’s grief?

Rashi tells us that the word "בכל", meaning everything, in this verse, is numerically equal to the word "בן" meaning son. In this interpretation, Abraham’s blessing is Isaac, to whom he has a duty which he performs through Eliezer before dying at the end of the Parsha. Others, like Rabbi Yehuda, proposed that his everything, his blessing, was a daughter. Some even claim that the word we take to mean everything, Bakol (בכל), was that daughters name. I’m inclined to agree more with the first interpretation, since this line is the first in the chapter and the rest is all about finding a wife for Isaac, then surely it must have something to do with that.

Going back to Abraham’s grief, a more contemporary figure in Jewish thought, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, talks about how the way Abraham deals with his pain and is able to quickly move on with his plans for the Jewish people is a measure of his righteousness and by extension his leadership. Unlike Noah, who becomes a depressed alcoholic after the flood, Abraham carries on.

I believe there is a lesson to be had, not just in leadership and morality, but also in mental health. When Abraham was at his lowest of lows, despite how terribly he must have felt for so very long, he persevered. It did not end him or hinder him until his dying day. It did not stop him from doing what he wanted and needed to do. He lived after Sarah died. The Torah literally counts his blessings after his great loss.

There is no life and love without death and loss. No human being is immune to grief, and we will all have to face it at some point. The challenge is whether we let it consume us, whether we become husks of our former selves, like Noah. Do we allow our story to be one of sadness or one of counting our blessings?

Read commentary on this week's Parsha from BBYO teens around the world.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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