Parashat Hayyei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 - 25:18)
Parashat Hayyei Sarah, is a parasha of transition. Each of the members of Avraham's family is transformed during the course of these few chapters: Sarah dies, Yitzhak and Rivkah meet and marry, Avraham dies, Yitzhak is acknowledged as the next in the chain of covenanted patriarchs, and Yishmael comes to bury his father and himself becomes the father of nations.
The most powerful moment of the entire parasha is contained in one verse: "His [Avraham's] sons Yitzhak and Yishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah . . . . (25:9). How significant, after all the jealousy, banishment, and competition, that these two half-brother are named in the same breath -- and come together to bury their father.
The moment is fitting tribute to Avraham -- for aside from his unshakeable faith in God, his other great attribute was as a seeker of peace and compromise. He made peace with Lot (13: 7-9). He bargained for the lives of the inhabitants of S'dom and Amorrah (18: 23-33). He made peace with Avimelech (21: 22-32). He wanted to resist sending Hagar and Yishmael into the wilderness (21:11). Aside from his successful military campaign against the kings who invaded from the east, we see Avraham as a gentle man, avoiding conflict and treasuring life.
I cannot help but sense the spirit of Avraham inspiring his two sons to seek peace themselves -- between the two of them, and in their relations with others. For all the animosity that their births and subsequent histories could have engendered, we hear of no conflict between the brothers themselves -- and according to the Torah itself, they came together in quiet dignity to bury the father who loved them both.
In these times, when peace between the children of Yitzhak and the children of Yishmael seems so tantalizingly close and then so heartbreakingly far, we should all emulate our ancestor Avraham, the seeker of peace and compromise.
The Birkat Hamazon (Blessings After Meals) is one of the most beautiful pieces of liturgy we have. We express our gratitude for the abundance of blessings God has bestowed on us -- sustenance, land, a spiritual center, hope for the future. There is a section of the Birkat Hamazon in which we ask God to provide us continued guidance, an honorable living, freedom of spirit, and ultimate deliverance. There is room here, I think, for one more request -- one that expresses the ethic demonstrated by the sons of our peace-seeking patriarch, Avraham:
Harachman, hu yashkin shalom bein b'nai Yitzhak uv'nai Yishmael.
May the Merciful One cause peace to dwell among the children of Yitzhak and the children of Yishmael.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.