Our Torah reading for this week, Parshat Chayei Sarah, begins and ends with death. As the reading begins, Sarah the Matriarch has died and her grieving husband Abraham must scramble to find a fitting and appropriate place to bury her. He will accomplish this task by purchasing a field in the possession of Ephron the Hittite, and burying Sarah in Ma’arat haMahpelah, the Cave of Mahpelah. Two chapters later, we read of two additional deaths – first of Abraham, who winds up being buried alongside Sarah in Mahpelah, and then of Ishmael, who is gathered unto his people and buried in an undisclosed location. It would not be illogical to think that the entire parsha is gripped in death, tragedy, and sadness.
Of course, who among us has never had to confront loss and death and feel that it is both overwhelming and life altering? The reality of loss can make one feel as if life has not only been permanently altered – it has – but that a future return to normalcy, happiness, joy, and success seems out of the question. Yet, to look beyond the opening and closing of Chayei Sarah is to confront not death, but life. Even the aged patriarch, consumed by grief at his wife’s death, can yet again find joy and blessing, and Abraham’s actions can serve as a paradigm and inspiration to us all.
As Genesis Chapter 24 begins, we are given a peek into the patriarch’s life. “Abraham was old, advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things (bayrach et Avraham bakol).” Notice, how even after suffering death, separation, and loss, the Torah considers Abraham to have been blessed! The 11th/12th century Spanish biblical commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra, among others, understands the Hebrew word “bakol,” in all things, as follows. He says the phrase relates to length of days, wealth, honor, and children. The RaDaK, Rabbi David Kimhi, takes it a step further, understanding that the blessing indicates that Abraham was blessed with means in order to find a suitable wife for his son.
Family members, and particularly children, are indeed a blessing. No wonder it pained Abraham and Sarah for such a long time – as it continues to pain so many who can’t have children – while they were childless. There are myriad blessings in our lives. Those of us blessed – and it is indeed a blessing – with children can understand the joy and happiness, and the sense of completeness, that children bring. Certainly, it is neither easy nor without moments of stress. But there are special moments in the lives of our children when we have the opportunity to take a step back, appreciate our children’s accomplishments, and enable us, the adults, to continue to dream about their futures and coming accomplishments (some of which we might not even have an inkling of at this time).
I feel blessed with the accomplishments of all my children, but take a step back and shep nachas from my son, Akiva, who attains the age of mitzvot this Shabbat. Akiva is a wonderful child, blessed with a kind, caring soul, devoted not only to family, but to avodat HaShem, the service of God and the Jewish people. As my wife, Ruth, and I look at Akiva, and all of his siblings, we feel fortunate to have been blessed in our lives with each of them and their accomplishments. Akiva, it should be noted, is the type of person who looks to others and seeks to do what he can to help another human being, and make that person’s life just a little bit better. When we pray in the Aleinu that we hope to perfect the kingdom of the Almighty, meaning that we partner with God to make this a better world, Akiva takes those words seriously, and finds the ways to reach out to others, to make other people feel validated and make their lives just a bit better.
As a larger community, we head into that time of the secular year and begin to think about our individual blessings, with the approach of Thanksgiving, even after we have just concluded thinking about our lives and their makeup during the recently concluded Yamim Noraim and Sukkot period on the Jewish calendar.
May we find blessing in all that we do, and all that we have. May our children be a continuing source of nahat ruah and accomplishment for each of us, and may we, like the patriarch of all, feel that we have been blessed bakol, in all that we do.