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“Being a Great Ancestor (Like Abraham)”

11/17/2022 10:13:13 AM


Rabbi Steven Folberg


One of my favorite wise sayings is this: "The finest achievement to which one can aspire is that of being a good ancestor." That's not an exact quotation, and it grieves me that I can no longer remember where I first heard it, but it reflects a deep and uplifting truth, whatever the original source might be.

At the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Hayei Sarah (the Hebrew means, The Life of Sarah), the patriarch Abraham suffers the loss of his beloved wife, Sarah. He weeps and mourns, and then goes about the practical business of patiently negotiating the purchase of a burial place, the cave of Machpelah. Not only will Sarah be buried there, but according to tradition, the other patriarchs and matriarchs (with the exception of Rachel) will also be laid to rest there. 

In a similar fashion, throughout Jewish history, as new Jewish communities were established in outlying areas, raising money to buy land for a cemetery often came before building a synagogue. This was part of looking toward the future, of being "a good ancestor."

The death of Sarah also spurs Abraham to send his servant, Eliezer, on a mission to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Again, here Abraham is the model "good ancestor." Not only does he want to make sure that Isaac has a life partner, but that the covenant with God and Isaac’s descendants is secured. I am reminded of the profound realization, after they’d passed away, of how deliberately my parents had worked to ensure that they’d put away something to pass along to their children and grandchildren. In their determination to leave a legacy, they transcended their own mortality.

Whether we do so through our activism to address climate change, or through our efforts to maintain a healthy, functioning American democracy, or by supporting CBI's efforts to repair the arson damage to our campus, or simply by doing everything we can to support the next generations coming up behind us, we will find that being a good ancestor is, indeed, a lofty aspiration.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Steve Folberg

Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784