Sarah dies. Abraham buries her in the Cave of Machpela. Abraham’s servant is sent to bring back a wife for Isaac. Abraham also dies.
IN THIS PORTION, OUR BELOVED ANCESTORS, Sarah, and then Abraham, die. It would seem that it is a story about loss and grieving. But the first word tells us that this story is about Life itself, perhaps the secret to the ripe, sweet harvest of Life’s bounty.
According to midrash, Abraham found the cave of Machpela (which would become the place of burial) much earlier in his life. He came upon it while chasing an ox in order to feed the three strangers who brought the good news that Sarah was to become pregnant. He followed the ox deep into a cave where he found Adam and Eve stretched out on couches, candles burning at their heads. A sweet scent pervaded the cave. The blessing Abraham received was a glimpse of the very entranceway to paradise. It held the well-preserved legacy of his ancestors. The fragrance of that cave is what Abraham remembered when Sarah died.
SARAH TEACHES US the blessing of the fullness of life, the ripening of beauty. We learn that the time of greatest loss is also the time of most abundant harvest. Even as our heart breaks in mourning, we receive (through that very-same broken heart) the legacy of our loved one, and we seek a way to secure that legacy, to plant it within us like a seed.
The blessing that comes of loss is hidden for us to find along the journey of our mourning. We are sent to our depths, to the cave of our ancestors. With courage we can walk into that cave, through the opening of our own broken heart, to where Adam Kadmon — the primordial man and woman — lies waiting surrounded by the fragrance of Eden. When we breathe in that fragrance, we come back to ourselves in an ancient memory of who we truly are.
No matter how rich the blessing is that comes to us through loss, we are still in considerable need of comfort and healing. This portion tells us how to receive the blessing of comfort that will heal us.
ISAAC, SARAH’S SON, GOES OUT from Be’er-lahai-roi, the place that is associated with Hagar, the stranger. Our grief makes us a stranger to life and we dwell in isolation and alienation until we are ready to love again.
This preparation for love is described in Isaac’s meeting with Rebecca. As prelude to that meeting, Isaac goes out into the field to meditate. The word here for meditation is la-su’ach, which refers to the practice of “conversation” with God. The field, a place of spacious natural beauty, is the setting. Here we engage in holy conversation, pouring out our grief, anger and despair, listening deeply for God’s voice. “Min hametzar karati Yah, anani vamerchavyah.” (Psalm 118:5, From the narrow places I called out to God, who answers me with Divine expanded perspective, the expansiveness of the open field.) The spaciousness that Isaac achieves in meditation allows him to lift his eyes and behold beauty and the possibility of love. In loving again we are comforted.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
THERE ARE MANY PERILS to the peace and integrity of the soul on the path of mourning. The bitterness, fear, and cynicism that sometimes accompany or follow experiences of tragedy and loss can become obstacles on the path of our soul’s journey. When we react to the feelings of vulnerability that loss brings by building up defenses around the heart and fortifying the small self, then we lose access to our own essence. That access is key to direct experience of God and to our ability to truly be of service.
The spiritual challenge at a time of loss is to surrender to the force of dissolution that grief brings, while harvesting the seeds of new life. After the seeds of legacy are planted, they are nourished by our practice and by what brings us comfort. As a gardener of the soul I want to grow compassion that will flower into acts of kindness and justice. This includes cultivating a compassion for myself that will allow me to receive comfort and be healed.
If we follow Isaac’s example we will seek the open field and develop a practice of meditation that will allow us to lift our eyes and open our hearts to love.
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
FIND THE CAVE OF MACHPELA WITHIN.
AS YOU BUILD THE INTENTION FOR AN INNER JOURNEY, chant these words:
ve-ikvotekha lo noda-u (Psalm 77:20)
And Your footsteps were not known.
AT THE END OF THE CHANT, dive into the darkness before you with the intention of finding the Cave of Machpela, the cave of our ancestors.
AS YOU JOURNEY, PAY ATTENTION to images and feelings. Go as far into the cave as you are called. Notice if anyone is there with you and allow that spirit to instruct you.
ASK FOR A GIFT and then open to receive it. When you have secured a gift, begin your journey of ascent.
WHEN YOU REACH THE SURFACE, describe or draw the gift you received and use it as an object of contemplation.
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.