Chayyei Sarah, ending the lifespan of violence

Chayyei Sarah, ending the lifespan of violence

Sarah died in Kiryat Arba.

Kiryat Arba brings up a flood of memories. Mostly right now I’m thinking of Tami and her mother, two women deeply committed to peace and reconciliation between the two peoples whose hopes and dreams wash up in violent fury at the shores where modern day Kiryat Arba and Hebron meet. Tami’s parents, observant Jews and at one time filled with the passion of the vision of restoring a vibrant Jewish life to the ancient land of the Jewish ancestors, raised Tami and her siblings in Kiryat Arba. I met them, and have come to know them, at the women’s Nonviolent Communication weekends we have held every year in the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho.

And now I think of Leah, another observant Jewish woman, also dedicated to peace and reconciliation between the offspring of Hagar and the offspring of Sarah. I believe it was Leah who first drove me through the eerie tunnels from Jerusalem to the kever, mosque, where Abraham and Sarah are buried, the cave whose acquisition by Abraham/Ibrahim is detailed in this week’s Torah portion.

And I think of all these women, and I think of the Palestinian grandmother I met in Hebron, whose father-in-law, she proudly told us, a delegation of Jewish seekers of some Truth, saved many Jews during the 1929 massacre of Jews in Hebron. And whose husband or father or brother-in-law himself was murdered two generations later inside the kever, mosque of Abraham/Ibrahim by Baruch Goldstein.

And now, in this stream of consciousness of the lives of women I have met in the land of Caanan, I think of a woman I study Torah with in Jerusalem who stood on her balcony two years ago this month (it’s now November 2016) and watched blood flowing out of the synagogue below her in the Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem called Har Nof, as two young Palestinian men hacked the Jewish worshipers to death.

And I think back to the very night that happened, and then the next night, where I and 70 people — Jews, Palestinians and internationals, huddled together in Beit Jala, between Hebron and  Jerusalem, trying to make sense of a chain of murders between the children of Hagar and the children of Sarah. And I’m thinking of a late night conversation another Sarah and I had with a young Palestinian man who told us that he knew the young Palestinian bus driver who had been found hanging in his Egged bus, whose hanging provoked the Har Nof killings,  and, in fact here, here, here’s a photo of me and him and our two friends. And one of the two friends is one of the young men who broke into the synagogue in Har Nof with an ax and stabbed him to death. And I tell you, my friends don’t hate Jews. This was a revenge killing. Not about Jews.

And I thought, and here I am, a Jew from Brooklyn, the same place where Baruch Goldstein is from, who invaded the Ibrahim mosque with a rifle and kept shooting and shooting and shooting until how many men in the act of praying fell and die?

And for now I just want to stay with the children of Sarah and Hagar, and not go to the children, someone’s children, we are all someone’s children, shot down in Charleston.

Staying here just with the children of Sarah and Hagar.

And these too are the lives of Sarah. The lives of Sarah, the span of Sarah’s life, was 127 years old, if we mark her life span by the time that she was mourned and bewailed by her husband Abraham. And if we mark people’s lives and lifespans by the time they are bewailed by their peoples, yes then the lifespans end.

But if we mark people’s lifespans and years by the ripples, the karmic energies and cycles that continue on and on and on, we are still living the life of Sarah.

And I remember back to the day that I visited the kever/mosque of Abraham/Ibrahim and saw the graves of Sarah and Isaac and Jacob on one side. And on the other, the mosque. And I wonder if there’s any way we can do what I heard the Dalai Lama tell 70,000 of us to do in Central Park decades ago. He said to us, when something bad happens, and we receive somehow the chain of a violent action, that could be the opportunity for which  we were brought into this lifetime. The opportunity to transform the harm, to stop the harm. To end the lifetime of that harm. We can choose to either continue the violence hatred and anger, or we can choose to stop that cycle.

And I see Tammy and her mother and Leah and the Palestinian grandma, and countless other women,  struggling to make that choice, to bring an end to the lifespan of violence and hatred.

In the Buddhist teachings the very notion of lifespan is seen as an illusion. This is discussed in the Diamond Sutra, one of the most beloved and studied of the Buddha’s teachings. And I never understood really what does that mean,  that lifespan is an illusion. And now as I sit here flooded with so many rivulets of my own experiences coming out of the stories of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, I see that there is no end to the lifespan of words and actions, of pain and suffering. That the experiences that make up a life and a lifespan continue on and on. And that our lives, the generations to come, receive everything that came before us and are given, over and over, opportunity to take what came before and make it into something new and higher.

And yet, here in Torah, this very chapter starts with this definitive statement that there was a span of Sarah’s life. The Torah says that there is a birth and a death and a mourning and a rising up from the period of mourning.

And perhaps this is the message and inspiration we can receive from the bereaved families organization in Israel and Palestine. That the life cycle ends with the mourning of the death. That the mourning is the opportunity to stop the continuing violence and hatred and to begin life anew.

Roberta Wall is the author of the forthcoming book the Torah of Connection, a weaving of Jewish thought, Mindfulness and Nonviolent Communication. Her website is

About the Author
Roberta Wall offers trainings inspired by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication and by the teachings of Mindfulness. She is a lawyer, mediator, trainer, parent, activist, mindfulness practitioner and coach. She shares her time between Israel and the beautiful Hudson River Valley of Upstate New York and travels the world coaching couples, individuals and organizations and facilitating workshops and retreats inspired by Nonviolent (Compassionate) Communication (NVC) as developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg and Buddhist teachers Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, and teachers and rabbis from her root Jewish tradition.