"They were Sarah's days..."
That's how this Parasha begins, with an enigmatic start, contradicting the Parasha's name, "The Lives of Sarah." Two immediate questions arise: Why "Lives," in plural, and why does it start with Sarah's death?
Regarding "lives," perhaps we never stop to think about how many changes (external or internal) occur within us during the time we live, and how many roles we fulfill during that time, in the family, in the community, at school, in society. Often, due to an impactful event, we feel that we are no longer the same before and after such an occurrence, as if our life, looking back, is composed of many chapters, many "lives" that unfold and intertwine like the links of a chain. Hence, the expression "lives" could poetically represent all those paths we have traveled.
Perhaps "lives" has to do with the different facets each of us has in our everyday lives. And Sarah had them. She was a devoted wife, a rebel who challenged the Kadosh Baruch Hu with her laughter. A woman so dedicated that she gave up her maternal place to her servant to "complete" the bond with her husband, Abraham. A visceral and almost unfair woman if we hastily judge her for removing Hagar, the same woman she had given in that act of love, and Ishmael, her son, from their lives.
When we refer to a person like Sarah, we encapsulate all these concepts with the name we mention this week's Parasha with; as we said: Chayei Sarah.
How could we find a similar expression to include in a similar way all the lives and different personalities and facets of the lives of the 1,400 people killed just a month ago in southern Israel? It's tremendously difficult.
In that impossibility, and in the horror and bewilderment of the event, the memory of each loved one of each victim multiplies the lives. The legacy and continuity of each of them in those who followed them in the chain of life and in the community chain make it even more impossible to determine it with a couple of words.
And surely, that was also the case with Sarah. Sarah's lives multiplied in the memory of Abraham, Isaac, and in the inheritance of a people who, thousands of years later, still remember her as THE matriarch of the people of Israel. With all her successes and mistakes.
This is the answer to the second question. Sarah, given her age when the narrative begins, was close to her death. The importance of her past "lives" was her legacy, her actions, and the future generations in which those lives would continue. That's what the text is about. Hence "Chayei Sarah," which implies a very spiritual way of talking about a person's death. And that should also be the answer to our questions about life, and of course, about death.
In an interview with a Rabbi in Buenos Aires about the events in Israel, he said something that seemed simple, beautiful, and brilliant at the same time: each of us received the beautiful, invaluable, and fragile gift of life. At the same time we are born, and facing all the uncertainties that this life, which has just begun, will present us with as challenges and questions, we obtain one certainty: that at some point, we are going to die. Faced with all the questions about the meaning of life, the path we should follow, the decisions we should make on our journey, that is the only thing we know for sure.
Yet we live, and we demand from the Kadosh Baruch Hu that this certainty fades away or even disappears. But precisely because of that, the word LIFE in Hebrew does not exist in the singular. The word chayim, life, is a multiplicity of lives that stem from our own, and it does not depend on how successful we are in this life or how many years we live, but on the imprint we are going to leave on those who come after us, on those who will remember us. Not necessarily as great heroes or achieving great accomplishments, but the loving mark that those who come after us can follow.
If we achieve that, our lives will multiply. Our fleeting moment in the physical life will prolong in vivid memory in the experiences and stories of family, friends, and acquaintances.
May the memory of each of the victims be a blessing for all those who have received even a small portion of love from each of them. May each of us find meaning in life, in what we are going to leave for those who come after us and remember us for good.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier