This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18) begins with “And this was the life of Sarah, she lived…” and continues to explore some relevant details of Sarah’s life. Commentators explain that this introduction to the new section of the Torah immediately follows Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice Isaac discussed in the previous Torah portion. Sarah died of emotional pain upon hearing the news that her only son, whom she conceived after waiting many years and undergoing numerous rounds of biblical fertility treatment, was to be sacrificed. This section begins with Sarah’s death and describes her life.
In notifying us of Sarah’s death, the Torah says the life of Sara. This seems like a peculiar way to inform us that she died. One would simply say, “And Sarah died, she lived until…..” So why did the Torah break the news this way? Perhaps it alludes to methods for mourning and Judaism’s shiva process. When someone dies, depending on the circumstances in Judaism, time is often spent reviewing, reminiscing and discussing together their life. The ups, the downs, the highs and lows. The lessons one can learn; for some the inspiration and for many, the shock and sadness.
However, there may be still another meaning to the life of Sarah: the importance of our speech and what our words mean to us. There is something deeper to the language that we use. In reviewing the story, one can feel the tremendous emotional pain here. What a tragic story and a tragic ending to a story. The amount of time and effort Sarah spent waiting to have a child is not proportionate to the amount of time she spent with her child. Tragic. And yet the Torah does not explore this. Instead, it informs us of the the hope, the beauty, that was Sarah’s Life. It describes the positive spin in a terrible situation. Perhaps this positive mindset personified the life of Sara.
Life is not defined by the positives and negatives. As Viktor Frankl suggests in his explanation of logotherapy: living a good life is a result of what you make of it. With an appropriate attitude we can all focus on our “life” or positive aspects, while ignoring the “death”, those parts of us that are difficult and may even predominate. Our circumstances and biology need not dictate how we define our lives. We all have the power to reframe and focus on all the tiny positives surrounding us.
We all are struggling with many challenges in today’s world – for many of us, we go with the ebb and flow and find the goodness in the midst of challenge. For some, each and every day is a challenge to connect to something good – feeling loved, appreciated or even validated. When you ask someone how are they doing, take a moment to stop and truly listen. Perhaps you can be the voice of good that shares what is best about their difficult journey. Let’s choose life.