November 22, 2019
I am honored and blessed to serve this sacred community of Temple Shalom of Aberdeen these past 20 plus years. It is a blessing to visit with congregants and loved ones, even as we all age. As I visit some who are in a great deal of frailty, it can be hard; but it is heartwarming when I visit and I am greeted with surprise and a big smile.
There’s always such a look of sweetness and goodness in one’s face. A smile that light’s up the room. We share stories about our lives, and our eyes are often filled with joy. We share jokes and memories. Yet, I also realize that sometimes my visits are painful as I have come to know that the person I am visiting has become a different person than the one that I had known in previous years. I have noticed that the body was sick and fragile. The personality was barely recognizable.
But their soul does shine through in such a powerful way. A soul that I had felt before, in the background, but now I only get rare glances of – at these special moments in our lives. Their eyes were filled with a radiance that seemed to convey the essence of who one was and always had been. They were ready. As our parashah, Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18) says about Abraham, ve Avraham zaken ba bayamim –and Abraham was advanced in years. I remember congregants who were advanced in years and as the Torah exclaims about Abraham, they were ready to be gathered among their ancestors. After a full life, they were in their last stage, turned to the heavens.
Our youth is a time of learning and absorbing. All of the life of a young person is focused on experience. They learn how to become productive members of society. To know themselves. To become literate in the ways of their communities, gathering the foundational knowledge and skills that will enable them to navigate life. They begin to define their place within the larger society.
The middle part of a person’s life is about having a family, mastering a vocation, and being active in the world. Developing the skills to excel at our work and contribute to society. Developing our personalities through our lives as parents and workers. Becoming a force in the world.
And in the final part of our life, our active life in society diminishes, as, at the same time, we become a source of wisdom for others in their journeys and lives. The tradition teaches us that we start the process of turning inwards, to develop our spiritual qualities. We gather understanding, perspective, and knowledge. As the body itself starts to break down, we are forced to look at deeper ideas of self than identification with our body and looks. We start to shift how we look at life and think about the meaning and purpose of our existence. As our life advances and those who are close to us depart this world. we begin to contemplate our own mortality and what our fate will be after death. We turn our minds toward the eternal questions.
And finally, as we enter our last years, even our personality is sometimes stripped from us and then we are forced by the cycle of life itself to only reside in our soul. Our personality with its likes and dislikes becomes just a shell, and our body a shadow of its former vitality and vigor. The last stage of life according to the mishnah is gevurah, strength, when we face mortality with strength and slowly let go of all that has preoccupied us during our years.
Before he dies Abraham, the patriarch, must take care of a final family affair, burying his wife Sarah and finding a wife for his son. And so the transition takes place throughout our parashah. Abraham buries Sarah, sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. Finally, he dies be seiyvah tovah, at a good ripe age.