Time to say goodbye

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By Rabbi Daniel Braune-Friedman
Special to WJW

This week’s Torah portion is Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1 – 25:18.


A few months ago we had a family unveiling. We brought all of our children, including our 2-year-old daughter. Toward the end of the service we had time to simply be quiet for a few minutes. Our daughter walked up to the stone and crouched down and simply stared at
the letters.
After about a minute of staring she started to cry. She didn’t cry like a 2 year old. She whimpered like the rest of us. It’s most likely she was mirroring the behavior of everyone else around her, but we all felt like she was using this time to say goodbye to someone she loved.
In this week’s parshah, Avraham mourns the loss of his wife and life partner, Sarah. Immediately, he finds a burial place for her. This seems quite normal to many of us who have made funeral arrangements for our loved ones. In the wake of loss, we are forced to make decisions about funeral homes and burial plots.

The text emphasizes how Avraham insists on buying the burial plot in Hebron rather than taking it as a gift from Ephron. Many argue that in this moment we Jews have rightfully, without any force at all, purchased at least one area of the land promised to us.

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Anyone would feel an urgency to find a burial place for a loved one. But why did Avraham have to bury Sarah in Hebron. One answer is that he knew that this land had more holiness than other places and he wanted his wife to have a special eternal home. Another may be more practical: he knew he and his son would be in this land, and he wanted to be close to her.

Over the years, I have become more familiar with the custom of visiting cemeteries to see loved ones. People use the burial locations as places to talk with their departed and to continue to honor their connection.


Perhaps it’s similar to our need to build a house of God, as we are told in the book of Exodus, “Make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). While God is everywhere, we build synagogues, temples, churches and mosques to feel God more imminently.

The same is true for how we create a small place to connect to our departed loved one. The ceremony about a year after burial is not called an “unveiling” in Hebrew, but rather setting up the stone.

What we are doing is creating a special place, or perhaps even a gate, as we return to a more immanent form of our connection to our departed loved one.

Rabbi Daniel Braune-Friedman is director of pastoral care of Charles E. Smith Life Communities.

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