This model of family caring for the dying is embodied powerfully in this week’s parashah. Jacob, aware that he is dying, speaks plain words to his sons: “I am about to die” (Gen. 48:21) . . . “I am about to be gathered to my kin” (49:29). By giving voice to the reality that his life is ending, Jacob opens up sacred opportunities with his family. He creates moments to put his blessings into words and communicates his wishes for what will happen to his body: that he be buried with his family in the family cave so that he can be gathered to his kin in all ways.
When I encounter this parable (often) in my work as a chaplain and pastoral educator, I am struck with the parallels to Abraham’s path after Sarah’s death. Although we do not know from the text if Abraham was inconsolable, we are told that he actively mourns his wife. We also know that Abraham goes on a quest, not to have Sarah restored to life but to find a suitable place to bury her. (Gen. 23:3–16)
Recent developments in psychiatry and neurobiology show that a quest, or what is called the “searching mechanism,” is normal and perhaps crucial to the grieving process.
In the elegy of David for Saul and his beloved Jonathan, the Hebrew words “Eikh naflu gibborim” (2 Sam. 1:17) carry a wordless cry and howl of anguish not rendered by the translation “How are the mighty fallen?” Professor Francis Landy of the University of Alberta notes that the first word, Eikh, most of all, is onomatopoeic. Eikh is a primal groan, howl, or keening; it is giving sound to inner pain and desolation, a sound of agony that comes in the immediacy of loss, ripped from the heart and soul.
By Rabbi Lilly Kaufman | Director of the Torah Fund Campaign of Women's League for Conservative Judaism, JTS
In my family, we are not the retiring type—although we do tend toward shyness. What I mean is that we don’t have a family tradition of retiring from professional work. We tend to work until we can’t. When I noticed that Parashat Beha-alotekha features an early appearance of the idea of semiretirement, I wondered about current work and retirement trends in the United States. Here is what I learned:
[T]raditional one-time, permanent exits from the labor force continue to be the exception rather than the rule, and . . . the retirement patterns of the Early Boomers, those on the cusp of
In the immediate wake of tragedy, our response is appropriately silence. Aaron movingly illustrated this in the parashah from two weeks ago after he lost his sons, Nadav and Avihu. Following their shocking deaths, the Torah records Aaron's response to Moses' attempt at consolation simply as, "and Aaron was silent" (Leviticus 10:3). We cannot begin to imagine the sense of loss and disbelief that radiated from the depths of his soul when he learned his sons were destroyed by the God who ordained their service.
By William Friedman | Co-Director and Rosh Yeshivah, Nishma: A Summer of Torah Study in the JTS Beit Midrash
What are the rituals that help us transition from one experience to another? Do we merely float through life, stoically absorbing its shocks, riding its waves, and pushing its regular cycles to the periphery of our awareness? Or do we take the time to stop, take stock, process, and move forward purposefully and consciously? These are the fundamental questions Parashat Metzora asks us to consider.
Leviticus 14–15 deals with three subjects: (1) the purification ritual of someone diagnosed with tzara'at (a skin disease classically but probably inaccurately translated as "leprosy"); (2) the
One of the most enigmatic and painful moments of all of Tanakh occurs in Parashat Shemini. Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s sons, come before the altar and offer what Torah describes as an “alien fire.” Without any sense of deliberation or warning, a divine fire issues forth and consumes Aaron’s progeny. Clearly shocked by the mystery of their deaths, Leviticus tells us that “Aaron was silent” (Lev. 10:1–3). Though I have often pointed to Aaron and his response as a powerful example of mourning the inexplicable loss of loved ones, Nahmanides gives us pause to reconsider the peshat (Torah’s literal
“And the span of Sarah’s life was 127 years—the years of Sarah’s life” (Gen. 23:1; my translation). Whenever I read this verse, I feel a deep sadness that is only intensified by the story that follows. Let me explain.
Psalm 23 is beloved in much of the English-speaking world for affirming a certainty of the divine presence—even in times of dread and adversity—in the most hauntingly beautiful language. The paean to the Psalm by 19th-century American pastor Henry Ward Beecher is widely cited.“The twenty third psalm is the nightingale of the Psalms. It is small, of a homely feather, singing shyly out of obscurity; but oh! it has filled the air of the whole world with melodious joy, greater than the heart can conceive” (Life Thoughts).
It is interesting to me then that this psalm has not found its way into
At the opening of this week’s parashah, Abraham is occupied with arrangements for the burial of his beloved wife, Sarah. Subsequent to his period of mourning, Abraham turns to the Hittites, the ruling authorities of the land in his day, and politely requests a plot. Our forefather entreats his hosts, “I am a resident alien among you; sell me a burial site among you, that I may remove my dead for burial” (Gen. 23:4). The Hebrew expression used for a burial site is ahuzat kever, more accurately translated as a literal grasping, holding, or possession for burial.