The Avodah Blog

Lessons for a Year of Service from Chayei Sarah

By Maddie Miller

A few weeks ago the Torah portion was Chayei Sarah. It differs from Bereshit’s earlier portions in that it contains less action. Chayei Sarah does not focus on dramatic events like the world’s creation, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, journeys to distant lands, or divine intervention. Instead, Chayei Sarah centers on ordinary events—marriage and death– that continue to affect individuals to this day.

Chayei Sarah means “The life of Sarah,” yet it begins with her death. It also ends with Abraham’s death. We do not know how Sarah and Abraham die, but we do know the details of their lives. They chose to embrace a different path by leaving their native land and customs behind to become the first Jews. They spoke directly with God. They had a child in their old age. Sarah dies when she is 127 while Abraham dies at 175. It is not their old age that makes them remarkable, but rather their lives’ accomplishments. The lack of details concerning their dying days serves to remind us that it is more important to lead a meaningful life than a long one. It doesn’t matter how they died; the ways they spent their living days is what is important.

Chayei Sarah also includes Isaac and Rebecca’s marriage. It’s a joyous occasion that separates the two deaths. The marriage helps Isaac get past his mother’s death and encourages him to look forward. It is also a reminder of life’s bittersweet quality. The good and the bad exist side by side.

While Chayei Sarah may not be the most exciting portion, it contains valuable lessons. Abraham and Sarah’s story inspires us to value life over death, beginnings over ends. It encourages us to stop focusing on end results and instead appreciate the steps we take to get there. The dichotomy of death and marriage reminds us that the negative and positive aspects of life coexist and that we can learn from both.

These lessons are particularly relevant to our year of service. We can’t transform DC in the span of a year, but we can make an impact. We will experience frustration and elation. All of our experiences are valuable because we learn from them. I hope we are able to accept our good and bad days. The future is uncertain, but our present actions’ effects on it are not.

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