This week’s Torah portion is Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1–25:18.
The second verse of our portion describes the events at the end of Sarah’s life: “And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba … and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her.”
Several commentators note the unusual phrasing of Abraham’s mourning process. The Kli Yakar points out that the natural order is that after someone’s death, we cry, and then we eulogize. He suggests that here the order is reversed because normally mourning decreases as the days go by and the dead person slowly fades from memory. But Abraham continued to feel the loss of this righteous woman more and more in her absence.
“And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah” (Genesis 23:1).
Rashi comments that the Torah, by repeating the word “years” after each number, is teaching us that all her years were equally good. So one might wonder why it is not her life, but Moshe Rabbeinu’s, from which we derive our model for length of days: 120 years? Particularly since Sarah lived seven years longer
It is a tragic truth that age often takes from us what we value most. For some, it is physical mobility. For others, dementia robs a person of their intellect, then their memories and sometimes even
In Deuteronomy 34:7, we are told, “And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his vigor diminished.” What happened in that seven year difference between Moshe and Sarah’s lifespan? Was Sarah losing some of her physical or intellectual ability? How long was it that Abraham felt the loss of the beautiful (Genesis 12:11), strong and sarcastic (Genesis 18:12) Sarah?
It tragic to have to watch the saintly or the brilliant lose themselves. Yet the Talmud states: “Be careful [to respect] an elderly person who has forgotten their knowledge through no fault of their own, for it was said: Both the whole tables and the fragments of the tables were placed in the Ark” (T. Berachot 8b).
Too many of us are forced to eulogize long before we cry, as we mark the changes in those we love as they leave us. It seems as though putting the broken pieces into the ark together with the whole pieces is a gift to the broken fragments, to be honored together with those still whole. But the truth is that none of us are whole.
“All her years were good.” Perhaps what we must remember is that there is blessing in being broken as well as being whole. Compared to eternity, every one of us is a shattered shard of God’s blessing. So perhaps we have it backwards. Perhaps it is the “whole” pieces which gain their sanctity from being together with the broken ones.
Rabbi Alana Suskin is managing editor of Jewschool.com.