David Harbater
Author, educator and scholar

Honoring the dead – then and now

Parashat Chayei Sarah, that we read this week, focuses on two topics: Abraham’s search for an appropriate burial site for his wife, Sarah, and his quest for a suitable wife for his son, Isaac. The first involves a lengthy negotiation between Abraham and the Hittites to purchase a field in Machpelah along with its cave (later known as Me’arat Hamachpela– the Cave of the Patriarchs) for Sarah’s burial. The second involves a lengthy journey by Abrahams’ servant from Canaan to Aram-Naharaim, where he would meet Rebecca, and then declare her a worthy bride for Isaac. While, at first glance, these two topics seem separate and distinct, they are in fact related.

The first reflects the importance of honoring the dead and the second highlights the importance of marriage and the perpetuation of life. The first pays tribute to those who left their mark in the past and the second lays the groundwork for those who will pave the way toward the future. The Torah then tells us that only after the hope for a better life is realized in the present is it possible to move beyond the loss of life and the sorrow of the past: “Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebecca as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death” (Genesis 24:67).

Over the past month, we have been grieving over the horrible deaths of roughly 1,400 of our people, agonizing over the fate of our 240 men, women and children held hostage in Gaza, and waging war to defeat the forces of evil that surround us. At the same time, we have set aside our differences to focus on that which unites us, we have opened our hearts to our brothers and sisters whose lives have been shattered, and we have extended our hands to our soldiers who are putting their lives on the line. As we move forward, we will continue to honor those who have died but we will focus our attention on providing a better future for the living. And, as with Isaac and Rebecca, when we surround one another with kindness, light and love, we will find comfort from the sorrow and sadness that overwhelm us today.

Having just returned from the funeral of Rose Lubin, I would like to share another thought. On Tuesday, I received the following message: “Rose Lubin, z”l was the female policewoman tragically murdered today in Yerushalayim. She was a lone soldier from Atlanta. Please can you help me circulate this message…to plead for attendance to accompany Sgt. Rose Lubin, z”l to her final resting place…Rose deserves the honor and respect for her bravery and service to protect the people of Israel. It will also elevate her parents and give meaning as they will see that this is the Am Yisrael that she loved.” I could not let this plea go unheeded and so I went today, along with my daughter.

As we approached Mt. Herzl, the traffic was at a virtual standstill and people, in the thousands, were flocking to the cemetery, as far as the eye could see. We could not help but be awestruck by the overwhelming sense of solidarity that was so vividly on display and by the lengths to which Jews will go to show appreciation and respect for a person who gave her life in defense of our country and of our people. Thus, it seems to me, that any nation that bestows such honor upon its’ dead has earned the right to the gift of life, now and for all eternity.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. David Harbater's recently published book "In the Beginnings: Discovering the Two Worldviews Hidden within Genesis 1-11" is available on Amazon and at book stores around Israel and the US. He teaches Bible and Jewish thought at Midreshet Torah V'Avodah, at the Amudim Seminary, and at the Women's Beit Midrash of Efrat. Make sure to follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn for more interesting content.