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TEMPLE TALK | NOVEMBER 18

11/23/2022 12:34:50 PM

Nov23

Rabbi Batsheva Appel

Rabbi David Wolpe, a Conservative rabbi in Los Angeles, author, and commentator on the Torah, posted this statement on Facebook this week: 

“A good life is lived in three time zones: with honor to the past, fidelity to the future and effortful appreciation in the present. To neglect any of the three is both unethical and unwise.” 

While he didn’t refer to this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, I immediately thought of the first verse: 

וַיִּהְיוּ֙ חַיֵּ֣י שָׂרָ֔ה מֵאָ֥ה שָׁנָ֛ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְשֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים שְׁנֵ֖י חַיֵּ֥י שָׂרָֽה׃  

“Sarah’s lifetime—the span of Sarah’s life—came to one hundred and twenty-seven years.” [Genesis 23:1] 

The pshat, the straightforward meaning of the text, is the translation that I just read. But because of the Hebrew, it is also possible to read it as: “Sarah’s life was 100 years and 20 years and seven years, these are the years of Sarah’s life.”  

Rashi, the medieval commentator, notes the repetition of the word “year” שנה and suggests that  

The reason the word shanah is written at every term is to tell you that each term must be explained by itself as a complete number: at the age of one hundred she was as a woman of twenty as regards sin — for just as at the age of twenty one may regard her as having never sinned, since she had not then reached the age when she was subject to punishment, so, too, when she was one hundred years old she was sinless — and when she was twenty she was as beautiful as when she was seven...i 

[Just in case you thought that a preoccupation with youth wouldn’t have been something to think about a millennium ago.] 

Is it possible to look at Abraham’s actions after Sarah’s death through the lens of Rabbi Wolpe’s statement about the necessity to live “with honor to the past, fidelity to the future and effortful appreciation in the present”? 

After Sarah’s death, Abraham mourns her, honoring the past. And then seems to put his mourning away to deal with the arrangements for her funeral, we read: “Then Abraham rose from beside his dead and spoke to the Hittites…” [Genesis 23:3]. He now moves to fidelity to the future. His goal is to purchase outright the land for a burial place for Sarah and himself, and for the future generations. When we read the negotiations, it isn’t clear if Abraham is getting a good deal, but from the description of the land he purchases at the end, which sounds similar to descriptions of land in legal documents to this day, he has achieved his goal. He has purchased the Cave of Machpelah and has secured the ownership of the land going forward. He then can bury Sarah in the present. 

Abraham’s next task is to get a wife for his son, Isaac. He makes his servant swear that he will go to Aram-Naharaim to find a wife for Isaac, that Isaac will not take a wife from among the Canaanites, and that if the servant is unable to fulfill his mission, he will not be obligated. Again, Abraham is honoring the past, wanting to connect Isaac to the land of his origins. He is being faithful to the future, making certain that Isaac is married. He is taking care of this immediately, paying attention to the present. 

As Rabbi Wolpe said: “A good life is lived in three time zones: with honor to the past, fidelity to the future, and effortful appreciation in the present. To neglect any of the three is both unethical and unwise.” 

We are pulled in all three directions, by all three time zones. Achieving balance is possible, but it is not easy. Cutting ourselves off from our past can damage the roots that we have established, our understandings of what has shaped us over our lives. Ignoring the consequences for the future is selfish and risks leaving our problems for future generations to solve. Not enjoying ourselves and appreciating what we have right now, where we are right now is a sad waste. We give up the possibility of having the wings to fly. 

Thinking of ourselves in three time zones is a stretch. Thinking of ourselves in three time zones takes practice. Thinking of ourselves in three time zones can keep us centered. 

Watch the recording of our Friday Shabbat Service here

Temple Talk is a recap of sermons given from the Bimah for those who missed a Sermon or who wanted to revisit the words spoken at a previous sermon. 

Mon, November 28 2022 4 Kislev 5783