Town Crier: Chayei Sara 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: The Jewish laws of mourning are some of the most respected in the religion. Why do you think so many people respect them? Which of these laws seem to be the most meaningful?

The beginning of the Torah portion of Chayei Sara features the Torah’s first example of Jewish mourning, as Abraham reacts to his wife Sarah’s death.

The Pitch: “Sarah died in Kiriath-arba – now Hebron – in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.” – Genesis 23:2

Swing #1: “The lamentation for the dead was caused less in those times by the depths of personal grief than by ceremony which was regulated by old custom and rites, for which one could also hire professional wailing women.” – Gerhard von Rad, Genesis

Swing #2: “Abraham comes to eulogize Sarah and cry for her. To eulogize may have the broader sense of burial and all the attendant ritual. To cry for her may mean the emotional accompaniment, which is to say, mourning. Yet the latter term may mean the personal action and the former may mean the more communal, technical action. In modern parlance, ‘to eulogize’ may have the sense of funeral and burial, while ‘to cry’ may mean the physical rituals of the mourner. – Burton L. Visotzky, The Genesis of Ethics

Swing #3: “How often we appreciate the full magnitude of a relationship’s importance only in retrospect. Avraham’s most passionate feelings for his wife find expression for the first time at her death. He weeps over her loss and it affects him so profoundly that he composes the lyrical poem Aishet Hayil [“A Woman of Valor”] in her memory, reviewing with each stanza another episode in their long life together.” – Matis Weinberg, Frameworks: Genesis

Late-Inning Questions: Do you agree more with Weinberg’s understanding, that Abraham is overcome with emotion after Sarah’s death, or are you more drawn to Visotzky’s and von Rad’s understanding that Abraham’s sense of personal grief is unclear at best? To what extent do Jewish mourning practices respond well to emotions felt immediately after a loved one’s death? And to what extent are they proper responses to emotions felt in the months and years following a loved one’s death?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: In the aftermath of a divisive election, it’s incumbent for us to ask: “Where Do We Go From Here?” Please join me for a text study and discussions on how Jews can make a difference in a changed America. The sessions will be held Wednesday, November 30th and Wednesday, December 14th. Each evening will feature to separate sessions: one at 7:00PM for those happy with the election results, and the other at 8:00PM for those unhappy with the results.  These sessions will be broadcast on Facebook Live.

The Big Inning at the End: In the mid-1800s, the baseball season would conclude sometime around Thanksgiving weekend. Football has long replaced baseball as this weekend’s game of choice, but imagine how different America would be if the original custom was retained.

Shabbat Shalom!