Weekly Words of Torah goes PC (Parashah and Chesed) – Parashat Chayyei Sarah 5780

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

Parashat Chayyei Sarah, which means the life of Sarah, ironically begins with her death. Abraham buys a burial place for her, in Hebron, called, Ma’arat (the cave of) Machpelah. Abraham realizes it is time for his son Isaac to marry, so Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac. The servant finds Rebecca, who is kind and generous to him and his camels, and so picks her as a suitable wife for Isaac. Rebecca comforts Isaac as he mourns the loss of his mother. Abraham dies, and Isaac and Ishmael bury him at Ma’arat HaMachpelah.

One of the greatest acts of Chesed, kindness that anyone can perform, is the mitzvah of burial, also translated as the mitzvah of the dead, called Mitzvat Ha-met. Mitzvat Ha-Met is the greatest act of chesed, because the deceased can never reciprocate your kindness. The Jewish tradition believes that the body is the place where the holy spirit lived. Therefore, the body needs to be treated with respect, even after the spirit has left. Therefore, a body is cleaned, guarded, treated with honor, and prepared for burial with respect. This is called k’vod hamet, the honor of the dead. The mitzvah of washing and preparing a body for burial is part of mitzvat ha-met. The acts of preparing a dead body is so important, and emotionally difficult, and truly a mitzvah, the group of people who organize to do this mitzvah are called the cheva kaddisha, literally meaning the holy society. Does your community have a chevra kaddisha? Perhaps you might want to learn more about it, and if you yourself do not want to partake in the mitzvah, perhaps you can partake in another way. For example, if people will admit who is in the chevra kaddisha, perhaps they have someone at home who needs to be taken care of, a child, or spouse, or loved one, and you can volunteer to serve as their caregiver, as the other person partakes in the participation of the chevra kaddisha. Sometimes, the members of the chevra kaddisha do not want to be known, and like to stay anonymous, since it is like a secret group, who do not want to have any recognition. Therefore, another way you can participate in this chesed of mitzvah ha-met, is by attending a funeral, burial, and/or shiva minyan, to help with making a minyan. Sometimes it is not always simple to get to the required ten for minyan. Another chesed opportunity is to help prepare a house for shiva – by setting up chairs, putting out the water basin for washing hands, or bringing the food and setting it up, as everyone is at the burial.

Weekly Words of Torah is a brief paragraph prepared weekly by our 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, and stay up-to-date with the latest WWOT theme, Chesed, here.