Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

Our Families and Our Mental Health: The Tent of Avraham vs. the Palace of David

As Sarah and Avraham approach the end of their lives, their public affairs are in order. They have orchestrated, per the Midrash, a religious revival in Charan, initiated an open tent operation for travelers, and settled outstanding issues with Avimelech and Ephron. Avraham and Sarah have inspired those around them.

At the same time, neither Abraham nor Sarah ever lose sight of the needs of their own home. Abraham ensures, prior to his death, that his son Yitzchak is positioned to continue his legacy, and he attends to the needs of his other children, as well. And Sarah, we are told in the Midrash, was gifted three blessings: her dough was blessed and plentiful; the light in her tent lasted from one Shabbat to the next; and a cloud, representing the divine presence, rested atop her abode. Our first forefather and first foremother, through all their public-facing efforts, nonetheless retain the capacity to invest in the wellbeing of their home front.

On the other hand, in this week’s Haftorah, we are introduced to the aging King David. For all his great political and spiritual achievements, including authoring Tehillim, a core component of our tefillot, the layers of familial strife that have accrued over the years in his palace produce an intense succession crisis. The local issues of David’s family have been overlooked and as David’s life nears its end, he attempts to resolve these crises. The tent of Abraham is on far better footing than the palace of David.

We have been witness, in the past few weeks, to an unbelievable mobilization of the Jewish people – in Israel and around the world. Reservists have reported to duty at a rate of 130%; high schoolers are delivering food, serving the displaced, cleaning out shelters; retirees are tying tzitzit and covering the stores of those mobilized to the reserves, staffing service locations and teaching in classrooms; even elementary school students are making cards. Everyone is playing their part at this critical moment in our history, investing their energy and resources into the welfare of others, the welfare of us all. This moment is an inspiration, which we can only hope to carry with us, long after the war is done.

But as we approach Shabbat Parshat Chayei Sarah, with the shloshim for the Simchat Torah massacre just completed, we need to ask ourselves some important mental health questions for ourselves and the country. In the midst of our efforts for others, are we taking care of our families, our children, and ourselves? Are we taking steps to make sure that when this weighty, challenging period of our lives is over, not only will the Jewish people be alive and strong, but our relationships and mental wellbeing will be alive and strong, too?

It is our responsibility to be like Avraham and Sarah, to not lose sight of the various roles we play in our public lives; we must be confident that our personal homes will also remain resilient on the other side of this abyss. As we face this great crisis together, we cannot allow crises in our personal homes to arise. We must also invest in the wellbeing of our home front, as a necessary responsibility in our continuing mission of supporting and defending Klal Yisrael.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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