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Mourning vs. Celebration

11/06/2018 12:07:02 PM

Nov6

Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman

Chayei Sarah 5779
6 days after the Pittsburgh shooting

I don’t even know what tone I should use to say “good shabbos” this week. Usually I exclaim “GOOD SHABBOS!” when I speak on Friday night, but that just doesn’t feel right this week with everything that happened in Pittsburgh. We are all in too much pain. But at the same time, our sages tell us that on shabbos we suspend mourning because of the collective celebration. And it is amazing to look out into this room and see a chapel overflowing with people here to celebrate Max’s bar mitzvah. 

So what are we supposed to feel this Shabbos? Are we sad? Are we happy? Are we ignoring one of those emotions for the sake of the other?

You can see outside in the hallway that we have the monitor with the images of the 11 martyrs, and 11 electric candles lit on the table under it. I’m on a rabbinic list serv and today rabbis were debating - do we have memorial candles in shul this shabbos? Technically the answer should be no, because we don’t mourn on shabbos, and many rabbis chose not to have the lights. But we do, and I actually think this is the right decision, and I wanted to look at an idea from this week’s parsha to help explain why. 

This week’s parsha is Chayei Sarah - as paradoxical a title as our feelings are this week. It means the life of Sarah, but she dies in the first verse. A parsha that is supposed to be about her life is actually about her death, and how she is mourned by Avraham and Yitzchak.

Avraham and Yitzchak have opposite reactions to Sarah’s death, and provide us with two equally valid forms of mourning. Avraham is a planner, and a compartmentalizer. He spends an appropriate time mourning and crying for Sarah when she dies. When that time is up he stands up, negotiates a burial plot for Sarah, and then arranges a wife for Yitzchak. He’s not disregarding his love for Sarah or letting her memory fade, but he is always moving forward. 

Yitzchak, on the other hand, is paralyzed. All we know about him is that he went to לשוח בשדה - a term we can’t even really define. He’s out in the field, wandering around. He’s lost, and unable to do doing anything. He has no idea how to function now that Sarah has died. Avraham’s planning and getting things done, but Yitzchak is stuck.

I certainly identified with both of these models of mourning this week. If I had a concrete task to do I felt like Avraham, and I was able to get it done. But every time I sat down to work on a project for work I felt like Yitzchak, and I just ended up staring at the computer screen and checking the news. I couldn’t get anything done. Being here with you tonight feels like the first time I even beginning to really process and internalize what happened.

Even though he feels lost, Yitzchak does find comfort at the end of our parsha. The text tells us that he brings Rivkah into his mother’s tent, marries her, and is then comforted for his mother’s death. Rashi cites the midrash that tells us that while Sarah was alive there were three things happened - a candle was always burning in her tent, there was a blessing in the dough, and a cloud hovered above her tent. When she died, all three of those disappeared. But, when Yitzchak married Rivka, all three things were restored, and he was comforted by the return of the past.

This is a beautiful way to think about mourning. Because of his loss, Yitzchak was paralyzed in the present. He couldn’t move on just like his father did. But that doesn’t mean that he was stuck forever. He was able to be comforted and begin to heal once he found a way to incorporate Sarah’s memory into his present. He needed to integrate the past into his present in order to move into the future.

In truth, this is a model for how we survive as a people. We have been through horrific losses, and yet we persevere. We don’t persevere by forgetting the past, but rather integrating memories into our present. To be Jewish means to to be able to celebrate while also having an awareness of what we’ve lost in the past. We don’t let the losses paralyze us, but rather we bring them with us through the generations.

With this in mind, I wanted to thank Max for having his bar mitzvah this shabbos and providing us all a reason to celebrate. Our joy is not a desecration or a disregard of the memories of the 11 martyrs murdered last Shabbos. Rather, it is davka the way that we are supposed to remember them - to celebrate together as we have the memorial candles burning for everyone to see. Yitzchak teaches us that we are able to move forward with a pure joy for Max, while also holding the pain and memory of everything that we have lost. So Max, I wish you and your family a wholehearted mazel tov, and we are delighted to be here in full celebration with you this Shabbos. Mazel tov!

Fri, November 15 2019 17 Cheshvan 5780