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Parashat Chayei Sarah

You know when it's been a long day and an even longer night? You've travelled far, dealt with a disaster or two, and finally are on your way back. You turn a corner and see your home. It is a moment of relief, everything about the challenges you just experienced feels a little lighter, because inside, at home, everything is guaranteed to be exactly as it was when you left it.

I'm sure this is how Avraham felt when he returned home after the Akeida, after travelling very far, almost slaughtering his son and travelling all the way home again, he was excited to see his wife, hug her, tell her everything was okay, put on his pyjamas and go to bed.

Avraham, however, was not able to enjoy his moment of peace after his harrowing journey, rather he finds that Sarah, after hearing (falsely) that Yitzchak had been sacrificed, died of heartbreak. This is the scene that the tired Avraham returns to.

It would be well within his rights for Avraham to respond with grief, anger and disbelief - but he doesn't. Instead, at the age of 137, he does two things, which are arguably the most important from a wider perspective.

First, he sends his trusted steward, Eliezer to go find a wife for Yitzchak. He must find a girl who is worthy of continuing the Jewish lineage and ascending to the matriarchal throne, left empty by Sarah's passing.

Second, he goes to purchase land in which to bury Sarah, marking the first time a Jew obtains a tangible claim to a piece of Eretz Yisrael. This moment sets the foundation for pre-establishment organisations like JNF who attempt to legally purchase as much of the land as possible.

So - to summarise, Sarah dies, and Avraham responds by securing our nation's lineage and land-claim.

We can learn a powerful lesson from Avraham's response to such a bitter tragedy. Rather than sitting and mourning the loss, Avraham looks to the future and secures it for generations to come. This is evident, even in the manner with which he procures the land for Sarah's grave. Ephron, who is the original owner of the land, is described to be in league with Mr Wormwood from Matilda, a sleazy salesman who deserves to have his hat glued on his head (if you don't understand the Matilda reference, accept that you had an empty childhood and move on). However, despite the personal tragedy Avraham is experiencing, he treats this man with great respect and justice. Some commentators say that this was truly Avraham's final test, to understand that he has no right to target Ephron or act poorly towards him. Avraham is at a low point, it would be easy to let his vision be clouded by his own challenges and snap at Ephron. Instead, he decides not to drag Ephron down in his moment of despair.

It is clear that this trait of Avraham exists within the Jewish bloodstream today, in the global response to the tragedy of Pittsburg. Yes, we mourn and yes, we are deeply saddened. However, we have also seen unity, projects that encourage Jews to observe this Shabbat or hang 11,000 mezuzot in honour of the victims. Because we are a nation that has always responded to troubles by looking towards the future, by fighting darkness with light.

May the memory of the victims be a blessing.

Am Yisrael Chai


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