Parshat Chayyei Sarah: A meditation for new beginnings
The following meditation was written as a love letter for the prospective students of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College for mincha (afternoon prayers) on November 8, 2017, 19 of Marcheshvan 5778. This guided meditation was written to serve as a companion for new beginnings or transitions.
Center yourself in your body, draw your attention to this room. Settle into silence, and remember how your body responds when the words you fill it up each day empty out. Maybe it’s too loud in there, or too quiet. Hear my voice!
Each letter of the Torah contains the whole world. And every week, the parsha gifts us medicine and guideposts to track time.
Today you have landed here, in this moment. You have traveled far, or maybe not. You sit in these walls and wonder, what place is there that you might find here? Who might your people be? What Torah might await your uncovering? What sparks will you send flying?
וַיִּהְיוּ֙ חַיֵּ֣י שָׂרָ֔ה מֵאָ֥ה שָׁנָ֛ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְשֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים שְׁנֵ֖י חַיֵּ֥י שָׂרָֽה:
23:1 Sarah’s lifetime—the span of Sarah’s life—came to one hundred and twenty-seven years.
These were the years of Sarah’s life. A hundred and twenty seven years of making and remaking, naming and renaming. Laughing and silence. Comforting and separation. Lies and more lies. These were the years of Sarah’s life, filled to the brim with blessing.
Sink into blessing. What blessings do you count in this moment?
And so Abraham, just back from the binding of Isaac, perhaps discovering her death before his son staggers home. Abraham wails and laments for his wife, and then hunts for land on which he can bury his be loved wife Sarah. He is vulnerable.
Reflect on your vulnerability. What is tender for you today? Do you feel like a גר תושב, a stranger among residents?
Where do you find stability? Where are places you have made home where you did not have home before? Move down those streets, look at the houses around you, the plants that you know grow there, the holes in the sidewalk you know to avoid. What makes it feel like home? How will you make home in a new place?
וְאַבְרָהָ֣ם זָקֵ֔ן בָּ֖א בַּיָּמִ֑ים וַֽיהוָ֛ה בֵּרַ֥ךְ אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֖ם בַּכֹּֽל׃
24:1 Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.
As you sit in this school, look ahead in time to look back. To this moment, to the moments to come from this moment. What will you look back, and God willing, count? What dreams will your long life manifest? Breathe into that dream. Feel it in your bones.
And so Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to seek out a bride for Isaac. Over his prayer that God might grant him luck in this journey hovers a shalshelet, a trope note that appears only 4 times in Torah, marking times of indecision. Why does Eliezer hesitate? Rashi tells us: Eliezer wanted his daughter to marry Abraham’s son. Eliezer wanted their families to unite. And so tasked with going out to find someone else, he hesitates.
The sound of shalshelet is the sound of a heart breaking, wishing for chosen family.
Hear the shalshelet, the chain, that connects you to family you have forged from love. Hold them close.
וַיֹּאמַ֓ר ׀ יְהוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אֲדֹנִ֣י אַבְרָהָ֔ם הַקְרֵה־נָ֥א לְפָנַ֖י הַיּ֑וֹם וַעֲשֵׂה־חֶ֕סֶד עִ֖ם אֲדֹנִ֥י אַבְרָהָֽם׃
24:12 And he said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham:
And Eliezer meets Rebekah. Strong Rebekah who draws water enough for man and camel, who is powerful enough to leave home and follow good instinct. What good instincts have you followed to get to this place?
Stretch into your strength, like Rebekah. What holy power do you manifest in this life?
וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ נִקְרָ֣א לַֽנַּעֲרָ֑ וְנִשְׁאֲלָ֖ה אֶת־פִּֽיהָ׃ וַיִּקְרְא֤וּ לְרִבְקָה֙ וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֵלֶ֔יהָ הֲתֵלְכִ֖י עִם־הָאִ֣ישׁ הַזֶּ֑ה וַתֹּ֖אמֶר אֵלֵֽךְ׃
24:57-58 And they said, “Let us call the girl and ask for her reply.” They called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will.”
Choosing the path before her, Rebekah took the next right move. Flex your toes, notice your feet, your wheels, what moves you forward. Sit with the power of a young woman who was allowed to choose her next step. Call on Rebekah in this time of discernment, welcome her in her strength to sit beside you.
Trusting that the road would illuminate before him, Eliezer went seeking the next right thing. In this time of decision, welcome Eliezer in his faith to sit beside you.
Blessed with multitudes that would come from their lives, Abraham and Sarah fought tooth and nail. As Torah pours forth from you, as you decipher where to root your Torah, invite Abraham and Sarah, the journeyers, the resident aliens, to sit beside you.
Surrounded by Rebekah, Eliezer, Abraham and Sarah, breathe in and out together, filling your lungs as much as you are able with the blessings of discernment, faith, journeying, and dwelling, notice their presence. Ask of them your questions. Journey this week with them.
Like the light of Shabbes candles, place your hands over your eyes, letting a different world filter through with its light.