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Parashat Chayei Sarah 11/22/2019

11/21/2019 04:29:01 PM


Rabbi Robinson

Parashat Chayei Sarah

How angry do you have to be to interrupt a wedding ceremony?

I have done a lot of weddings in my career, and I thought that I’d seen it all, but this past week, I heard a new one. I heard from someone that they had been at a niece’s wedding at a venue in Pennsylvania, a beautiful location, with beautiful weather, that was marred only, but especially, by a woman, the owner of the neighboring property, yelling, chanting really, throughout the ceremony “Not in my neighborhood” so loudly that the bride could not hear the groom share his vows. Apparently, this neighbor does this to every wedding, even going so far as to turn on a chain saw, or even getting her 6-year old in on the act.

What kind of pain does a person need to be in to inflict this kind of hostility on strangers? Apparently, this neighbor related that after one wedding, drunken revelers nearly ran someone over. I can see that as an issue and wanting a safe neighborhood. But, once the guests have arrived and wedding ceremony has started, what is accomplished by ruining it? How does that keep the neighborhood safe? This doesn’t feel rational to me. This feels like the kind of rage we increasingly see in our society. That hyper-sensitive fight-or-flight response emerging out of an overstimulated amygdala, that part of the brain that controls fear and our response to it. There’s some suggestion that the news today triggers the amygdala every three seconds, though given this past week it may be even more frequently than that. We live in a world that is so anxiety-provoking that our ability to respond rationally barely has a chance to engage. While I am sure none of us would scream down a wedding, I bet many of us in this room right now can think of times in the past year, or even the past month, where we reacted in a way that was totally out of character based on our own anxiety, our own inability to reach acceptance.

We see some of that pursuit of acceptance in Chayei Sarah, this week’s portion. Sarah’s death is a triggering event, one that sends everyone reeling. Abraham and Isaac grieve apart from one another. Sarah’s loss is keenly felt, and each is left to find acceptance on his own. Abraham finds comfort in burying Sarah and helping Isaac find a spouse in Rebekah. Isaac seeks comfort first in holding onto his mother’s tent after she has passed, and then in his love for his wife. But full acceptance doesn’t come until the section I read a moment ago: as Isaac and Ishmael gather to bury their father, and Isaac is blessed by God. What does that mean, that God blesses Isaac? We learn from the tradition that God offers words of consolation; that God bears Isaac’s burden, at least a little bit, and helps Isaac accept his loss and find comfort.  And the Talmud continues that this behavior of God’s, to help console Isaac, should be a model for us. That just as God consoles Isaac in his grief for Sarah and Abraham, so should we, and doing so is a blessing.

Acceptance is not acquiescence, it’s not surrender. And it certainly doesn’t mean refusing to correct inappropriate behavior. But when we help others find acceptance, or others help us find comfort, we are letting go of the idea that we have any control—over others, over outcomes. I cannot dictate how others will react or behave. I cannot control what tomorrow will bring; I can replay yesterday repeatedly in my head, but I can’t make it any different. I can’t control what happens in a hearing room in Washington any more than I can control what happens on the streets of Hong Kong. I can sympathize—I can suffer with—those who are suffering. I can try to recognize and help others with their burdens, knowing that I won’t ever really, truly know their burden.

The Kobriner Rebbe said, “when you suffer tribulation, do not say this is evil. Say, rather, this is a bitter experience. I don’t know what pain this neighbor of the wedding venue has suffered. I know that causing other people to suffer will not alleviate her pain, nor will it control the outcome. The wedding couple, drowned out by this woman’s pain, did not choose to confront the woman, or stop the ceremony. Rather, they chose to continue with the ceremony, chose to be present for one another, chose, through tears, to celebrate in spite of it all.  Sometimes we have bitter experiences. We can’t control that. We can’t insulate ourselves from them, no matter how hard we try. But we can accept those experiences as part of life. We can seek consolation and bring comfort to others who are suffering. So we pray the words of Chaim Stern: in our weakness, bring out our strength. In our despair, renew our hope. In our fear, restore our faith, and may we find ways to bless each other. Amen.


Thu, June 13 2024 7 Sivan 5784