WWOT – Weekly Words of Torah: Parashat Chayyei Sarah

To inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women
By Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, Executive Director, Women’s League For Conservative Judaism

Although this week’s Torah Reading, Parashat Chayyei Sarah, means “the life of Sarah,” it does not discuss much about the life of Sarah; rather, it focuses on her death. The Torah reading begins by telling how Sarah’s life spanned 127 years until her death.

Abraham then went about the process of finding her a final resting place. Here, we read of the first cemetery acquisition, his purchase of Ma’arat HaChapelah, the Cave of the Machpelah, in the Land of Canaan. And so begins one of our most difficult life cycle events — burial and mourning. Not exactly dinner table material, the burial part of this is one of those subjects that is often avoided in many of our familial conversations. However, we all need to plan for our inevitable atid, our future — and making pre-arrangements (choosing a cemetery and a funeral home, and purchasing a plot) for our funeral can be very helpful for our loved ones. Once these arrangements are done, it is useful to create a list of contact people and phone numbers, including the rabbi and funeral director, to simplify things when a death occurs. If you are affiliated with a synagogue, the rabbi or administrator may be able to assist you with these arrangements, particularly if the synagogue has an associated cemetery. It’s important to plan ahead and make your wishes known if you wish to donate your organs. All branches of Judaism allow organ donation, though procedures may vary. A will contains your wishes regarding the disposition of your material and financial estate, including who should administer your estate. Although a will can be prepared without a lawyer, you may wish to consult one, especially if your assets are substantial or the arrangements you wish to make are complicated. An advance directive (also known as a “durable power of attorney for health care”) contains your wishes regarding end-of-life or emergency medical care. For instance, you may want to make a decision in advance as to whether “extraordinary measures” should be taken if you are found unconscious. These are complex and often disturbing issues to contemplate, and you may wish to consult a professional (medical, legal, or pastoral) for assistance in reaching decisions.

Parashat Chayyei Sarah provides an opportunity to reflect on our lives, and also begin these conversations about the inevitable atid, the future, which we all have. In the words of Tim McGraw, may we all “live like you were dying.” Parashat Chayyei Sarah provides an opportunity to reflect on our life, and also to begin those conversations with those we will leave behind about what comes afterward. Help them all during this extremely difficult time by preparing ahead. They will truly appreciate it later on, and you will sense their appreciation while you are still here.

WWOT, Weekly Words of Torah will be a brief paragraph prepared weekly by our new Executive Director, Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, presented in our “This Week @ Women’s League.” WWOT will provide meaningful thoughts related to the Weekly Torah Portion, an event on the Calendar, a Prayer, or something of Jewish interest, to inspire, guide, engage, enrich, and empower Conservative Jewish Women. If you have any particular interest in future topics, or want to send Rabbi Wolintz-Fields an email, you can contact her at ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org. Read previous Weekly Words of Torah here.