Monday, October 21, 2013

Chayei Sarah

Genesis 23:1−25:18

Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

Filling in the Missing Pieces of Sarah's Life

Should we be surprised that a parsha entitled "Hayey Sarah," or, the life of Sarah, in fact opens with the death of Sarah, and encompasses nothing of her life story?

Torah is full of round-about tales and messages. Here is one that is perhaps more significant for being less straightforward. It is about Sarah, and yet not about one person, for it clearly connects to the origins of a people.

To find the beginning of this tale that is "the life of Sarah" we need to go back a few parshiot and chapters in Genesis, when her name is still Sarai. Her spouse Avram, in response to the call to "leave your homeland, your kin, your father's home," brings her on the journey, along with his nephew and others.

Contemporary readers, especially those straining to tune in to women's experiences in Torah, must surely wonder if Sarai had any say in the matter, and what it may have been like to her to uproot herself for the sake of her husband's call. Ellen Frankel, drawing on traditional rabbinic commentary, other relevant historical data, and her own imagination, constructs this tale, in the voice of Sarah, in her marvelous commentary, The Five Books of Miriam:

"What mysteries still surround the story of how our people began! For though the rabbi's recount that Abraham left Ur after smashing his father's stone gods, they fail to tell all the other stories - about my own decision to leave .. One night I had the most frightening dream. The tyrant Nimrod appeared to me and foretold the death of my beloved Abraham and his entire family. He declared that he would no longer tolerate Abraham's preaching about YHVH, who claimed he was mightier than all the gods of Ur. When I awoke, I told my mother of my dream .

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