When someone we love passes away, we experience deep sorrow and grief. We miss that person’s presence and caring. We miss the support and all that we shared. Jewish mourning rituals and customs are meant to help us cope, to face the loss realistically, and to find comfort. Jewish tradition helps us to understand that “death is not the end” but rather that our loved ones continue to live in our memory and keep influencing the ones left behind.
In this regard, this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, provides us with a very important tool. While Chayei Sarah may be translated as “Sarah’s lifetime,” our parashah actually deals with Sarah’s death, how Abraham dealt with it, and how life continued for her family after this big break, just before Yitzchak and Rivka start their own new family.
An important part of Abraham’s way of dealing with the death of his beloved wife is to find a proper place for her burial. He finds the Machpelah, a cave in Hebron, and purchases it for the full value of the land from a local Hittite leader. This can be seen as a fundamental cornerstone of our Jewish tradition. Every Jew should have a proper gravesite, a place that reflects the dignity of the deceased, and which serves as a enduring place to commemorate lost love ones for the bereaved.
One of the heinous crimes during the Shoah was to deny the victims this fundamental right. Not only were they deprived of their names, their dignity and dehumanised during their lifetime, they were refused a funeral. They were murdered, burned and hastily buried anonymously. Their death sought not only to extinguish their lives but their memory, too. We cannot provide the victims of the Shoah with a Machpelah, a proper gravesite. But what we can do is to remember them and their lives by gathering like we did last Monday evening. What we can do is to bear the legacy of each of them, and to reinstate the memory their names as a permanent remembrance. As a Jewish community we can – together with the society we are living in – create places and occasions for grief and commemoration. We can at least try to restore all that was taken away so brutally from the victims of the Shoah: their dignity, their uniqueness, their individuality, and their divine spark, which is inherent in every human being.
It is remarkable that at Abraham’s own funeral – which marks the end of the parashah, his whole family comes together to grieve the loss of their patriarch. They get a chance to remember him for the man he was, with all the ups and downs., the moments they shared, and all the divine sparks scattered during his lifetime. Let us be this family for the millions murdered in the Shoah, comforting the survivors, and underlining that “death is not the end” but rather that all of them live in our memories