Tag Archives: Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah: The Days of the Years of Life

abrahamic-covenantAnd these are the days of the years of the life of Avraham which he lived; a hundred years and seventy years and five years. And Avraham expired and he died in a good age, mature and satiated and was gathered to his people.

Genesis 25:7-8

Reb Avraham, the son of the Vilna Gaon, testifies about his father:

“For over fifty years he never slept more than half an hour at a time…Even when his health began to fail, he did not set aside his holy learning. Immediately, he would rise like a lion, in fear and dread of his Creator, wash his hands, and recite his morning blessings with a joy and awe which is beyond description. Afterwards, he would stand on his feet from before midnight until the first light of dawn learning Gemora and Poskim in a beautiful and awesome voice…Whoever heard it was moved with deep feelings of holiness.”

Arriving in Jerusalem, one summer, I immediately made contact with my good friend and study partner, Reb Reuven, and we agreed to get busy the next morning studying an hour or more before Davening. The next morning I made it on time but I was suffering from jet lag, sleeplessness, and exhaustion. I commented to my friend that I don’t know how the Vilna Gaon did it. I can’t imagine what it means to only sleep at half hour intervals four times per day for the course of a lifetime. He told me, “It’s not true!”

-Rabbi Label Lam
Commentary for Torah Portion Chayei Sarah

I periodically suffer from insomnia. Some nights are better than others. In extreme cases, I walk around like a zombie the next day, barely able to think. All the coffee in the world doesn’t turn me back into a human being. Yesterday (as I write this) was such a day. I finally collapsed into bed at 7:30 p.m. and fitfully drifted off. Only to wake up on several occasions during the night. Fortunately, on each occasion, I was able to go back to sleep. I chose not to go to the gym this morning in order to spend an extra hour in bed, finally getting up at a few minutes after five.

I feel much better today. I have my brain back.

Rabbi Lam’s commentary helps me realize though that it’s not just the number of hours you are awake or asleep, but how you use them. I was disappointed that, even in my dreams last night, I was focused on the mundane and ordinary rather than anything more lofty. The previous day, I could hardly concentrate on anything except what I absolutely had to get done, which tends to be mundane and ordinary.

Which was too bad, because I received some rather inspiring reading material that I wanted to dig into, but fatigue argued with my desire and fatigue won.

Vilna-Gaon-207x300I don’t know how the Vilna Gaon did it either. It seems like a physical impossibility. I’ve learned to take such tales of the great sages with a grain of salt, so to speak, which probably wouldn’t endear me to many in Orthodox Judaism. On the other hand, these tales often act as an inspiration for a more important principle that is to be grasped and applied to our day-to-day experiences.

Rabbi Lam comments:

How are living “the days of years of the life” different than living just the “years of the life”? What is the great advantage of living in units of days? It’s a nice aphorism, “One day a time!” but how does that translate into daily life? What does it mean to live each day as if it was the only day?

Which reminds me of this.

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Matthew 26:39-41 (NASB)

This was perhaps the most important night in the Master’s short, human life, and his closest disciples and companions couldn’t keep their eyes open for even one small hour.

I know the feeling, although last night was hardly the most important night for anything in particular.

Or was it?

He told me, “It’s not true!” I insisted I had read an authenticated biography of the Gaon and that it was certainly true that he only slept two hours in total each day. He told me again that it was not true and so I argued my case again only to be countered with the “not true” claim. Eventually Reuven explained and I realized how right he was. He told me, “It’s not true that the Vilna Gaon only slept two hours each day! He learned Torah twenty-two hours each day!” I understood that he was not into sleep deprivation as we imagine but rather the sublime joy of learning Torah.

It’s not true that the Vilna Gaon slept only a total of two hours a night. It is true that he studied Torah twenty-two hours a day.

Well, maybe not. He had to eat sometime, and I don’t doubt that various biological, family, social, and other demands may have consumed some portion of those twenty-two hours.

intimate-prayerBut this is still an important lesson to be learned. It’s not the amount of time you have that’s so important but what you do with it. What are your priorities? For that matter, what are my priorities? It is true that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, but what about when you are well rested and the flesh is strong (or stronger)? Do you spend your time in Torah study or in watching TV? Do you spend your time in prayer or in surfing the web? Do you spend your time in service to others or by serving yourself?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy life and indulge yourself as you are able to (within the will of God), but I am saying that how you spend your time, day by day, hour by hour, defines your priorities. If you pray to God to be of greater service to Him but spend most of your time being of service only to yourself, you betray what and who is really important to you.

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.

Matthew 7:15-20 (NASB)

It’s nice to have space and a little slack time to relax and appreciate life instead of being on the go, go, go, but space is there so you (and I) can grow into it. It’s like when I was a kid and my parents bought me shoes half to a full size bigger than my feet because they knew I’d rapidly grow into that space.

That is why we have the mitzvot, prayer, Bible study, volunteering for charitable services, visiting those who are sick. It’s what we do to fill the space and time God gives us in our lives.

Rabbi Lam asks, How are living “the days of years of the life” different than living just the “years of the life”? Each day of our life is a lifetime within itself.

Today I shall learn to better spend my time in the service of God, with Bible study, in prayer, in meditation on His Word, in seeking an encounter with the Divine.

Good Shabbos.

Chayei Sarah: Oil for the Lamp

“Now Avraham was zaken / old, well on in days, and Hashem had blessed Avraham bakol / with everything.”

Genesis 24:1

Why does our verse say that Avraham was “well on in days” rather than “well on in years”? R’ Yaakov Yosef Hakohen z”l (1710-1784; foremost disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov z”l; known by chassidim as “the Toldos” after one of his works) explains:

The Gemara (Shabbat 153a) teaches: Rabbi Eliezer said, “Repent one day before you die. But, since no one knows when he will die, repent every day.” King Shlomo likewise said (Kohelet 9:8), “At all times, let your clothes be white.” Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai said: “This may be likened to a king who announced that he would hold a feast, but did not announce the time. The intelligent ones among his entourage dressed-up so as to be ready on a moment’s notice, while the fools did not prepare.” [Until here from the Gemara]

-Rabbi Shlomo Katz
“Beginnings and Endings”
Hamaayan, Volume 26, No. 5
Commentary for Torah Portion Chayei Sarah

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:1-13 (ESV)

Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? The one who learns from every person…

-Pirkei Avot 4:1

Who is wise? The motto for the Boy Scouts is “Be prepared,” so, given the lessons we see above, it would seem that we would be wise if we learned from the sages who provided those teachings. We can learn from every person, but it is better to learn from those who have something useful and edifying to say.

And yet, how often do we ignore wise teachings until it is too late? How often do you put off changing the batteries in the smoke detectors in your home? How often do you let the needle on your car’s gas gauge get down to “E” before looking for a gas station? And while it’s impossible to predict an earthquake, if you knew a hurricane was coming, how long would you wait before trying to leave for a safer location or stocking up on food and water for yourself, and batteries for your radio, and then shuttering your windows against the coming storm?

No, I’m not taking a cheap shot at the victims of hurricane Sandy, but rather, I’m saying something about we Christians. How often do we take “being saved” for granted, even when we know that a “storm” is coming? How often do we take our relationship with God for granted and think we know everything we need to know about Him?

I saw this yesterday on Facebook:

Going to be a very interesting year ahead. I started going to a Bible study with a friend of mine, yesterday was our first class and let me just say complete shock. They are studying B’RESHEET (Genesis) and in the new members class the leader was telling us how she has been a Christian for over 40 years, joined this Bible study 5 years ago and it was the first time she ever read the ‘Old Testament’. Many of the other women commented that they too had not read anything other than the Psalms and had no idea where this thought of ‘twelve’ tribes came from. How very ,very sad.

Isn’t that a little like waiting until the last minute before getting oil for your lamps, and then getting locked out of the “marriage feast?”

OK, a lot of Christians don’t really consider the Old Testament to be that important. A lot of churches bill themselves as “New Testament” churches and that’s pretty much all they feel they need. However, since all of Christ’s “source material” from Scripture was before the Gospel of Matthew, it might be wise to study what he must have studied (We sort of assume that Jesus just “knew” the Bible forward and backward, but as a child and young adult, no doubt like other Jews, he attended synagogue on Shabbos, heard the sacred texts being read, and studied as would be expected of a young Jewish lad from a humble family in the Galilee).

We do know that he knew a few things and learned a few things growing up.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished.

Luke 2:46-48 (ESV)

It is true that studying does not automatically assure that a person will grow wise, but lack of study will almost certainly result in a person being ignorant. Christianity and Judaism have one core document that provides us with a connection to those who established our faith and who can tell us the story of man and God: the Bible (“Bible” has different definitions depending on whether you’re Christian or Jewish).

But it’s not that simple.

To define sola scriptura without academic terminology might sound something like this: The Bible is the only authority in the believer’s life; it is never wrong about anything; it touches on every aspect of life; it needs no outside help to be correctly interpreted; it never disagrees with itself; it can be understood by anyone of average intelligence; and it applies to everyone in every situation.

-Jacob Fronczak
“The Five Solas: Sola Scriptura”
Messiah Journal, Issue 111 (pg 47)

That sounds good as far as it goes, but let’s see what else Pastor Fronczak has to say.

I only use the example of translations to illustrate the fact that in a very practical sense, the Scriptures in their original languages are, for most Christians, not enough – tools such as translations, concordances, the Masoretic vowel points, and commentaries are required in order to understand the text. Of course, the goal is to understand the original text, which in itself is not an objection to the doctrine of sola scriptura – until one realizes that every translation, every commentary, and even the textual tradition itself are all based on traditions along with the divine written revelation. It is simply impossible to get away from these traditions and study the Bible in isolation. (Fronczak, pg 52)

It seems that studying the scriptures to acquire wisdom is getting harder or at least more complicated all the time.

I’ll probably write another “meditation” sometime soon expanding on other points in Fronczak’s article, but essentially, he is saying that we cannot study the Bible in any useful manner without employing (hold on to your hats) the “traditions of the (Christian) elders.”

“The traditions of the elders” has received a lot of “bad press” in Christianity because of the perception that both ancient and modern Jews allow “the traditions of men” to have authority equal to or even greater than the Bible. The Christian response, particularly among Protestants, is to say, “let scripture interpret scripture,” which is the short definition of sola scriptura. That means, “no traditions are allowed,” just the Bible itself. However, Fronczak’s article makes it abundantly clear that the early church fathers employed a great deal of tradition in even canonizing the books of the New Testament, and Catholicism, even to this day, states that the Bible can only be understood through its traditions.

Imagine the shock of realizing that the same is true among all modern-day Protestant churches as well. We just don’t choose to say it in those words.

Remember that quote from Pirkei Avot about a person being wise if they learn from everyone?

And what about the commentary on Abraham and its apparent companion lesson about the ten virgins? How can we learn from everyone and how can we be prepared to learn what we need to learn in order to comprehend what the Master is teaching us, and thus draw closer to God?

You must unlearn what you have learned.

-Yoda (Frank Oz – voice)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

In some sense, learning what’s important and what takes us on the path toward wisdom means “unlearning” concepts and doctrines that we discover aren’t useful in our lives. That isn’t always easy when such information is directly attached to words like “sacred” and “holy” and “divine revelation.” It would be like a person who learned as a child that God was a giant, old man with a long white beard who sits on a huge golden throne on a cloud in the sky. Now imagine that child is Jewish and then he grows up and learns that according to Rambam’s thirteen principles of faith, God doesn’t even have a body and is not to be considered a corporeal being? If the fellow was still young enough, that might come as quite a jolt.

Now imagine being a woman of middle age who has been a Christian for forty years reading from the book of Genesis for the first time. Taking it a step further, imagine the same woman in a group of women studying the Old Testament, accessing the classic interpretations for Genesis to try to understand anything at all about who Abraham was, where he came from, why God made a covenant with him, and what that covenant means to both Jews and Christians today.

If we are to take the lesson from Avot at face value, then our class of women might want to “unlearn” a few things about the Old Testament and learn, not only from extra-Biblical Christian commentaries about Genesis, but from a few Jewish ones as well.

Certainly Jesus understood Abraham from a completely Jewish context and framework. If we want to understand Jesus, we must understand what he understood.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.

-Matsuo Basho

So we unlearn what is not useful to us and then start learning from a wide variety of sources, seeking to understand God (as best we can) and who we are in Him. How do we know when we’re “prepared enough?” Five of the ten virgins kept “flasks of oil” with them for their lamps so that when the bridegroom came, they were ready to light them, even if it was at midnight. How do we know when we’ve studied enough so that we have “flasks of oil” at hand?

Let’s look at it another way. Studying, learning, understanding, are all active processes. You can’t bottle the stuff and put it on a shelf for a rainy day. It’s like continually replenishing the oil in lamps that continually must be burning. This makes sense when compared to another parable of the Master about we Christians being the light of the world (see Matthew 5:14-16) and how our light must be placed where everyone can see it burning all the time.

Our “lamps” will never be filled to 100% capacity where we can then stop tending to them. We are prepared when we’re always preparing; when we’re always studying, and learning, and discussing, and pondering, and repenting, and praying, and…you get the idea.

In each journey of your life you must be where you are. You may only be passing through on your way to somewhere else seemingly more important—nevertheless, there is purpose in where you are right now.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Be There”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Or in the words of my generation, “Wherever you go there you are.” We should all consider ourselves “a work on progress.” We’ll never be complete. We’ll never be “finished” or “done” or “perfect.” As long as we live, we must move forward. As long as we’re breathing, there’s someplace else to go, something else to learn, another person we need to meet.

And God will always be with us, as long as we continually seek him, and walk by the light of our lamp.

Good Shabbos.

Abraham’s Servant

abrahams-servantMany see the value of spirituality, and perhaps its necessity. They seek to infuse their lives with spirituality and nurture their relationship the Al-mighty. How does one begin to live such a life?

Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac. The Torah, known for its brevity in the general narrative and in outlining the commandments, describes Eliezer’s search in uncharacteristic detail. Our Sages are lead to conclude that “G-d finds more beauty in the regular conversation of our Forefather’s servants than in the children’s Torah” (Rashi, Gen. 24:42 based on Midrash). How could anything be more beautiful than Torah, His Mitzvos (commandments) that guide us how to live life to its fullest?

Let’s observe Eliezer in action (Gen. 24): He arrived at the well where he’d meet Isaac’s bride Rebecca, and he took a moment to pray to G-d for help. As matters unfolded, Eliezer stood back and recognized G-d’s hand in the success of the mission. He began to see success, he then bowed to G-d and said a prayer of thanks. He recounted the events to Rebecca’s family and pointed to G-d’s hand throughout. The family agreed to the marriage and Eliezer bowed in thanks to G-d.

What’s the ultimate beauty of G-d’s Torah? It brings us to recognize and build our relationship with the Al-mighty. That’s spirituality in a nutshell, and there’s no greater joy. Abraham’s servant, amidst all that occurs, maintains that relationship; he lives with the constant awareness of G-d’s presence in his personal life. G-d Himself finds that most beautiful!

-Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Torah.org – Project Genesis

And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham: Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’-let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master.”Genesis 24:12-14

I receive the Project Genesis Lifeline email on Friday morning, which is usually too late to use as a source for my Torah Portion “morning meditation”, since I write each blog post a day ahead. This is why I tend to comment on a given Torah portion right before and right after Shabbat. This commentary from Rabbi Dixler surprised me a little, not in what he said, but in the fact that he posted a photo of Denver Bronco’s Quarterback Tim Tebow praying before a game. Why use Tebow as an example when Rabbi Dixler could have as easily used a photo of a Jew davening? I looked up Tebow (I’m not a football fan) on Wikipedia and found this:

Tebow was born in Makati City in the Philippines, the son of Pamela Pemberton Tebow, daughter of a U.S. Army colonel, and Robert Ramsey Tebow, a pastor, who were serving as Christian Baptist missionaries at the time.

All of the Tebow children were homeschooled by their mother, who worked to instill the family’s Christian beliefs along the way.

I’m probably reading more into this than is really there, but as I recall, the servant of Abraham was not a Hebrew (some Rabbis consider him a Ger Toshav) and yet he gives us our first example of a personal prayer in the Torah. It’s also interesting that the servant refers to God as, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham” rather than as “my God” or just “God”.

It’s often thought that one of Abraham’s virtues was that he taught all of his household, including his family and servants, ethical monotheism or the nature and character of the One God. We know from later in the scriptures that Israel was and is to be a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6) and moreover, that the nations would be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 12:3) and his seed (Genesis 22:18, 26:4, Acts 3:25).

ancient_olive_treeWe see from this two things: that the Gentiles connect to God through the Jewish people, and that once this connection is established, we may access God directly. To extend this metaphor, just as the servant of Abraham connected to God through his Jewish intermediary Abraham, we who are Christians connect to God through our Jewish intermediary, His Son, Jesus, the Messiah and Savior. In that sense, there is a duality to our nature as Christians. On the one hand, our unshakable foundation is the Rock and the cornerstone that was rejected, and we can trace his lineage all the way back in time from Jesus to Abraham (Matthew 1:1-17). On the other hand, standing on that rock, we continually reach up to the Heavens seeking the Author of our faith and the King of Majesty and Glory for all the Universe.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, though addressing the legacy of the Jews, speaks of this in his article “Life’s Roots” at Chabad.org.

We are trees, living two lives at once. One life breaking through the soil into this world. Where, with all our might, we struggle to rise above it, grapple for its sun and its dew, desperate not to be torn away by the fury of its storms or consumed by its fires.

Then there are our roots, deep under the ground, unmoving and serene. They are our ancient mothers and fathers, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rivkah, Yaacov, Leah and Rachel. They lie deep within us, at our very core. For them, there is no storm, no struggle. There is only the One, the Infinite, for Whom all the cosmos with all its challenges are nothing more than a fantasy renewed every moment from the void.

Our strength is from our bond with them, and with their nurture we will conquer the storm. We will bring beauty to the world we were planted within.

While Judaism sees Noah as the “father” of the Gentiles and believes we should look to him for the seven laws by which we should govern our lives, Paul teaches us that we can call Abraham our father (Romans 4) because like him, we are “justified by faith” and it was from Abraham that the hope of the Messiah comes. We stand on the rock and reach up to the heavens.


Chayei Sarah: Creating Eternity

stop-timeIn chronicling the life of Avraham, we are told in the portion Chayei Sarah that “Avraham was old, well advanced in days, and G-d blessed Avraham in all things.” Seemingly, “old” and “well advanced in days” are synonymous. Why does the verse repeat itself?

Our Sages interpret the qualities of “old” — zakein — and “well advanced in days” — ba bayamim — in the following manner: “Old” alludes to the acquisition of knowledge, while “well advanced in days” refers to the filling of each and every day with the performance of mitzvos.

Commentary on Chayei Sarah: “Aging Gracefully”
Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. III, pp. 773-778 and on
on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will. -Chuck Palahniuk

Time is finite. Our time is finite. Yet it is supposed to be possible to be a part of something that will last forever. I’m not taking about our “immortal souls” and an eternity in “the life of the world to come”, although for those of us who have faith, they are realities. I’m talking about what we build here and now that will last after our flesh and blood bodies have expired and decayed. In Torah Portion Chayei Sarah, we have the lives of Abraham and Sarah who though mortal, live on. Although this week’s Torah Portion is called “The Life of Sarah”, virtually the first event we read is that Sarah dies.

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. –Genesis 23:1-2

How are we to understand that the Torah portion called “the Life of Sarah begins with her death? Here’s one viewpoint.

The reading Chayei Sarah (“The life of Sarah”) begins by telling of Sarah’s death, which features in much of the subsequent narrative. This evokes an obvious question: Why is the reading entitled “The life of Sarah”?

This question can be resolved on the basis of our Sages’ statement: “Yaakov our Patriarch did not die.” Although he was mourned and buried, his descendants perpetuate his spiritual heritage. And so, Yaakov is still alive.

The same can be true for any individual. It is the spiritual content of our lives, and not our physical existence, which is fundamental. The boundaries of mortal existence cannot contain this spiritual dimension.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Ongoing Life: The Continuing Effects of Sarah’s Influence”
Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 338ff; Vol. XV, p. 145ff

We normally think of those things that will live on after us as our work, what we meant to others, and the values we taught people. We also tend to think that our children and grandchildren carry forward our legacy and this is all true. But here we see that there is a spiritual dimension to what we do in life that continues to live and make its presence known. There is an ineffable essence to the nature of what we do in the service of God that has a greater impact on this world than all the monuments, statues, and works of the great and the famous throughout time.

Yet, in considering our hope in the future, we also have these examples.

Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” –Mark 12:24-27

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” –Luke 9:28-33

liveIf we look to our faith and the Author of that faith, we are assured that what we do here and now matters, not only in a physical sense but in the spiritual realm as well (though we don’t understand how it matters). We know that what we do lives on after us, both physically and spiritually. We in fact know that those who have passed away before us are not dead but live eternally and we have been promised that, like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and Elijah, we will also live. It would be nice if we could accept this promise in absolute terms so that we would never be afraid of the shortness of breath, a pain across our chest, or a mark on our skin that begins to change. But we are only human.

I know that when we are scared, when we are in pain, when we are sick, we become aware of how frail our lives are and how easily they could be ended. In spite of the promises, our faith can be weak and as human beings we are afraid. As human beings, we can doubt the validity and significance of our lives and our actions. When we are under pressure and feeling stress, hope evaporates like water under the desert sun.

That’s when we need to be reminded.

Derek Leman recently said:

When a loved one is absent, especially is they are far away, we keep some pictures of them. It is an act of love, and something we need, to bring out the pictures and look at them regularly. So, when we study the words of scripture, we remember that God is real though hidden. I find that closely, slowly, repeatedly, thoughtfully lingering over the words and puzzling out their meaning and significance is what brings his Presence near.

Reading the scriptures and studying the Torah Portion are more than just exercises of learning and annual habits. They also serve as a reminder for the frightened and the desperate that there is a strength and a life beyond our own. It is a reminder that we are not alone in the world and that we matter, just as who are at this very moment. What we do matters, not only here and not only now, but in the infinite and timeless eternity were God sits on His Throne. Even our softest and most gentle whisper of kindness has power that resounds across the unseen folds of the universe and is experienced by the great prophets and kings of old and even among the angels.

Sarah and Abraham died but everything they did continues to echo in our world and in the world beyond. Sarah and Abraham died but they live forever. We can be like them if we pay attention to what we do and use our lives and our time as they did. We can fill our days with doing kindness to others and our nights with the study of God’s Word. When you doubt, do good, read, pray, and then remember. We long for God. He longs for us. God lives forever. So will we and in fact, in our acts of charity and righteousness, we already do.

Good Shabbos.