By Rabbi Lizz Goldstein
This week’s Torah portion is Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1-25:18.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov would say, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to frighten oneself.” When crossing a narrow bridge, one might be inclined to step carefully, slowly, so as not to slip into the abyss. Such a crossing might take longer, and the secure land on the other side may seem far, but it is better to take the time for a safe transition than to try to hurry and risk stumbling along the way.
It feels like we have been on a precipice of something big for a while now. The continued spread of the coronavirus has caused ongoing quarantines and lack of certainty, leaving many lives, jobs and decisions treading water. Data on the closing window for meaningful action on climate change has marched on despite these standstills in other aspects of life, and we have watched the polls of our divided nation anxiously and wondered what would come of the election. We have stood at the edge of the cliff peering down and across, and now we have started to cross the bridge, hopeful for what is on the other side.
This week’s Torah portion is called “The Life of Sarah,” though Sarah plays a pretty small role, seeing as the first line recounts her death. Midrash suggests that her death comes as a direct result of hearing about the near sacrifice of Isaac. Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer tells of Satan taunting Sarah with the tale of what was happening on Mount Moriah. Satan purposefully misleads Sarah, and she dies without knowing Isaac had survived. As soon as she hears that Abraham had bound Isaac on the altar, she cries out three wails sounding like the shevarim shofar blasts and promptly dies.
There is nothing to suggest, in the Torah or in the midrash, that Sarah was responsible for her own death in any way. It is hard to control emotions, and it would be hard for any of us to tell someone who thinks they’ve lost their only child to wait until all the facts come in before giving in to heartbreak.
But if we can hold to what Rabbi Nachman taught, that we must cross the narrow bridges in our lives without becoming consumed with fear, perhaps we can stave off our own shevarim wails that parallel Sarah’s death cries. Though the woman was 127 years old and did not seem to have an easy life, Abraham is even older and outlives her long enough to get remarried and have more kids. So it seems Sarah could have lived on had she not
succumbed to her fear and sorrow.
As we make our way through the end of this very difficult year, let us keep our eyes ahead, open wide and discerning. May we tune out taunting half-truths and seek out facts. May we push forward through fear, anger and sorrow — perhaps still wailing in tune with the shofar blasts, but without giving fully into the despair we may feel at times. May we find our steps steady and strong as we cross this narrow bridge, and may we reach the other side safely together.
Rabbi Lizz Goldstein serves Congregation Ner Shalom in Woodbridge.