D’var Torah for Chayei Sarah

George Gazarek gave this d’var on Friday, Nov 25

There are five Torah portions named after men in the Torah but only one named after a woman: Sarah, the wife of Abraham and our first matriarch.  And so this week’s portion is titled Chayei Sarah, Sarah’s Lifetime.  It begins with the death of Sarah, whose lifetime came to 127 years.  Abraham mourns for Sarah.  This is the first mention of mourning for the dead in the Torah.  The portion ends with the death of Abraham, whose lifetime came to 175 years.

Three years ago, when I first gave a d’var for this portion, I thought about talking about Keturah, whom Abraham took as his wife after Sarah died.  Although she bore him six children, she is not mentioned as one of our matriarchs — and yet Rachel, Jacob’s second wife, is.  But at that time, I decided to focus instead on death, as both Sarah and Abraham, our first matriarch and patriarch, die in this week’s portion.  Besides, there’s something about late October and early November that shines a spotlight on death, what with Halloween, the Day of the Dead and the falling leaves of autumn.

As I was writing about death, three years ago, I received an email from Bob Locke and eureka!  The path forward was clear. I had to move from death to life.  The email contained this reading, which was in a beautiful video.

The man whispered, “God, speak to me” and a Meadowlark sang.

But the man did not hear.

So the man yelled, “God, speak to me” and the thunder rolled across the sky.

But the man did not listen.

The man looked around and said, “God, let me see you” and the sun shone brightly.

But the man did not see.

And the man shouted, “God, show me a miracle” and a life was born.

But the man did not notice.

So the man cried out in despair, “Touch me, God, and let me know you are here”

Whereupon God reached down and touched the man.

But the man brushed the butterfly away and walked on.

This beautiful poem reminds us that God is always around us in the little things that we take for granted.  Don’t miss out on a blessing because it isn’t packaged the way that you expect.

We should not focus on death, the end of our journey, but on the journey itself.  Each day of our journey is a blessing in and of itself.  And each day is filled with as many blessings as we are willing to open up to seeing, to hearing, to feeling and to believing.  The leaves that are falling this autumn are only making room for the buds and blossoms that will come again in the spring.  Life is eternal, and so are we.

So in this Thanksgiving season, we focus on saying thanks for our many blessings.  Saying thank you can be a difficult thing to do.  Doing so means admitting that you are in another’s debt.  I am admitting that another individual did something for me.  I am not all-powerful; I need the help of others to survive.  The reality is that the human race is interdependent.  We cannot live life alone.  We are constantly relying on each other for all kinds of resources, both physical and emotional.  When I say thank you I am acknowledging that I have received something from another human being.

Joanna Fuchs struggles with this in her poem It Doesn’t Seem Enough:

I want to tell you “Thank you,”
But it doesn’t seem enough.
Words don’t seem sufficient–
“Blah, blah” and all that stuff.

Please know I have deep feelings
About your generous act.
I really appreciate you;
You’re special, and that’s a fact!

Gratitude is a powerful expression of love and it can perform miracles in your life.

There are countless benefits associated with being grateful.  Among these, gratitude has been linked to increased levels of happiness and life satisfaction.  Giving thanks is one of the most powerful ways there is to
increase your well-being.

Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

And, Rabbi Harold Kushner said, “If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”

And finally, this lighthearted poem about Thanksgiving:

‘Twas the night of Thanksgiving,
but I just couldn’t sleep…
I tried counting backwards,
I tried counting sheep.
The leftovers beckoned… the dark meat and white,
but I fought the temptation with all of my might.
Tossing and turning with anticipation,
the thought of a snack became infatuation.
So I raced to the kitchen, flung open the door
and gazed at the fridge, full of goodies galore.
I gobbled up turkey and buttered potatoes,
stuffing with gravy, green beans and tomatoes.
I felt myself swelling so plump and so round,
till all of a sudden, I rose off the ground.
I crashed through the ceiling, floating into the sky
with a mouthful of pudding and a handful of pie
But I managed to yell as I soared past the trees…
Happy eating to all – pass the cranberries, please.

Shabbat Shalom!