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Chayei Sara

November 13, 2020
25 Cheshvan 5781
Parashat Chayei Sara
Genesis 23:1 - 25:18

Dear Friends,

This past week, I had the joy and challenge of studying with our own Tamara Fish and her team at the Academy for Jewish Religion’s retreat on Racial Justice. We were a cohort of current students, perspective students, alumni, and faculty. For most of our sessions, we were more than seventy strong. Hearts and minds were opened as we explored a way forward together. It was not easy but it was a beginning.

Why do I share this with all of you? Beginnings are complicated; it is never entirely clear where one will end up. We hope for the best, but the best is only possible if we bring our full selves forward. This week's Torah portion is an example of what happens when we are not fully open not fully with those closest to us.

In this week’s parsha, Chayei Sara (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18), we meet Rebecca. She appears to us as strong, kind, and open, qualities that are exemplified by her watering of the 10 camels. Can you imagine the time and effort it took for her to water all those animals? She is able to say yes to Eliezer and go on a journey into the unknown to marry a man she has never met before. Then what happens when she finally meets Isaac or, rather, sees him in the distance? We are told that she becomes his wife and comforts him after the death of his mother. It is a strong beginning.

A strong beginning is not enough. It needs to be sustained and nurtured. Like a plant, it needs watering. One retreat on racial justice is not enough. It is the beginning of a process that needs care, attention, and a degree of fearlessness. Rebecca entered into a marriage with a man who was not only mourning the death of his mother, but also suffered the trauma of being almost sacrificed by his father -- circumstances that demanded a great deal of her. When we look at next week's parsha, we can examine if she was fully up to the task. 

During the retreat, the sessions invited, coaxed, and challenged participants to go outside of their comfort zones. In some ways, the discomfort is a familiar place for us as we live in the new normal that is life with COVID. None of us can escape the realities of life with COVID, but for some at the retreat the reality of Jewish diversity along with racial injustice in America was a place they had never been before, certainly not with the thoughtfulness and care that we were asked to grapple with it. The retreat was a beginning, and beginnings matter, but they need to be sustained. Those of us who are on this journey toward racial justice have an advantage over Rebecca. We are not alone on this journey -- we have one another to lean on when we falter along the way.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, April 13 2021 1 Iyyar 5781