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Learning From Our Children - Parashat Chaye Sarah 5780, November 22, 2019

This week’s parasha, Chaye Sarah, opens with the death of Sarah Imeinu – the mother of our nation. This presentation comes on the heels of the end of last week’s parasha – the discussion of the binding of Isaac and the discussion of the proliferation of Avraham’s extended family.

The verse at the beginning of this week’s 
parasha states, “And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in the Land of Canaan; and Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to cry over her.” Our Chachamim discuss the phrase, “and Avraham came” - from where was he was coming to eulogize his recently departed wife?

The Midrash offers two possibilities of where he was coming from. Rabbi Levi teaches that he was returning from burying his father, Terach. Rabbi Yose teaches that he was returning from Har HaMoriah – Avraham was returning from the episode of the binding of Isaac. According to Rabbi Yose, Sarah died out of the pain of hearing about the episode.

Both Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Yose agree that the subject that precedes Sarah’s death in the Torah is connected to Sarah’s death. However, they disagree regarding the specific topic that connects directly to Sarah’s death – the binding of Isaac or the expansion of Avraham’s family. Rabbi Levi maintains that the section that directly precedes the death of Sarah – the expansion of Avraham’s family – gives context to the discussion of Sarah’s death – Avraham sequentially attended to his father’s death and his wife’s death. Rabbi Yose maintains that the expansion of Avraham’s family is merely a detail – the Binding of Isaac is the big incident that precedes Sarah’s death and established the cause of Sarah’s death, her pain over hearing the news.

The commentator, Anat Yosef, further discusses Rabbi Levi’s teaching that Avraham returned to eulogize Sarah from burying his father and explains the import of this fact. Anaf Yosef writes that although the Torah is not clear as to what prompted Avraham to be in Charan to bury his father – perhaps he had gone there originally to see his growing extended family or perhaps Hashem commanded him to go there specifically to bury his father – the fact that Avraham buried his father is a statement of the stature of Terach. According to Anaf Yosef, if Avraham buried Terach, it is a sign of Terach’s righteousness – Terach must have abandoned his idolatrous ways and repented.

The Torah often presents the parent-child relationship as one of giver and recipient. The parent teaches and the child learns. The parent supports and the child is supported. The parent leads and the child is led. However, the case of Terach and Avraham serves as a very different model. Reading both the Torah and the Midrash, we see that Avraham taught Terach about the Oneness of Hashem. Avraham led Terach and his family away from Ur Casdim. Avraham gave and his father, Terach, received. In the case of Avraham and Terach, the parent-child relationship was flipped. Apparently, Rabbi Levi, according to Anaf Yosef’s interpretation, teaches that Avraham’s impact on his father was so great as to create the opportunity for Terach to do 
teshuva – to repent. Terach’s merit in turning away from idolatry created the obligation for Avraham to bury him in Charan.

As parents, our primary role is to give to our children. We teach, guide and provide for them. However, Avraham teaches that children should also seek to influence their parents and Terach teaches that parents should be open to being influenced by their children. It is understandably difficult for a parent to learn from his or her child. Such a change in the relationship requires humility and a willingness to grow on the part of the parent. However, children do have so much to offer their parents. Our children offer us a different and, hopefully thoughtful, perspective. When presented respectfully, we can offer our own parents a different, and hopefully thoughtful, perspective. Just as Avraham taught Terach and Terach learned from Avraham, we should seek to be a positive influence on our parents and be willing to be influenced positively by our own children.

Shabbat Shalom,    Rabbi Benjy Owen

(This article was originally printed in 2017)


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