Parashat Chayei Sarah (or the Life of Sarah), covers a number of subjects, including: Sarah’s death at age 127; Avraham’s purchase of a burial plot in Kiryat Arba, in which to inter Sarah; the finding of a bride for Yitzchak; the birth of many more children to Avraham (with new wives); and the death of Avraham, at the age of 175.
But the title of the parasha puts Sarah front and center. And, as much as Avraham gets top billing, there could have been no Avraham without Sarah. She was a true partner in the endeavor of building the Jewish nation. It ought not be forgotten that she, too, left her homeland and her family on the strength of God’s promise, an act of courage and faith, as significant as her husband’s. It should not be forgotten, that Avraham’s tent, for which he received acclaim as a great host, was Sarah’s tent too. It should not be forgotten, that though Avraham had many other children, the child he loved most and the one who was his natural heir, was Sarah’s. Finally, it should never be forgotten that when Sarah discovered Avraham had taken Yitzchak to sacrifice him, without confiding in or asking her, she died, brokenhearted.
So, with this parasha, we mourn with Avraham and Yitzchak. And while we find it challenging to relate to so much of the Bible, with its larger than life personalities and events, the titular story of Chayei Sarah is one we can appreciate, without any deep commentary or introspection. We understand that, when a wife and mother dies, the world changes forever. We understand that, although the spirit remains, so too does the pain of the loss.
Poetry is especially well-suited to articulate grief. And when my mother-in-law, Sondra Fox, zichrona livracha (may her memory be for a blessing), died, I turned to poetry and found solace in writing this poem, entitled What We Needed.
What We Needed
—After Sondra Fox (z’l)
At the exact moment on the Saturday morning mom died, had we gone
to synagogue, we might have been reciting the comforting prayer: You
are faithful to revive the dead. Blessed are You, Lord, who revives the dead.
But we chose, instead, to walk. To enjoy the warm, spring air, appreciate
the reborn trees with their nascent buds. To pretend the end was not near.
And, anyhow, words of comfort were not what we needed that day.
What we needed, that day, was for mom to rise from the hospital bed that did
not belong in her bedroom. We needed her to remove the tubes and needles
that forced air into her scarred lungs and a river of drugs into her failing system.
We needed her to brush her hair, put on a pretty blouse and some comfortable
slacks. And, then, we needed her to walk the few steps to her tiny kitchen, the
place she’d prepared a thousand school lunches and an ocean of chicken soup.
Where she’d measured and poured, chopped and sliced, roasted and simmered,
boiled and baked. Where her daughters helped her cook epic meals that the
family devoured, like a swarm of locusts that had not eaten in seventeen years.
What we needed, that day, was for mom to make us lunch. Nothing fancy.
Maybe some pancakes with chocolate chips. How happy it would have made
her to feed us one last time. To enter paradise with a stained apron.
They say a woman of valor is hard to find. To give her credit for her labors and
let her achievements praise her at the Gates of Heaven. Blessed are You Lord,
who revives the dead. Who has given us pancake batter and chocolate chips.