The 2 Ways to Live a Good Life: Parashat Chayei Sarah

In Lech Lecha, Avraham is given the most difficult trials of his lifetime, amasses his enormous fortune; safely travelling far and wide with his beautiful wife, Sarah, and lives a very eventful, challenging, and rewarding life. That is, until the Akeida. 

Parshat Chayei Sarah immediately follows Parshat Lech Lecha and creates a stark contrast in not only pacing, but the story-telling puts these two parshot at extreme opposition with one another. It feels almost contradictory to what’s happened.

The Akeida is not only Avraham’s greatest test, but it is also the trial that changes the course of his story. The fallout between him and Yitzchak is irreparable and the two are never together again. Not only does it ruin his relationship with his favourite son, but the shock of the news kills even his wife.

Following through with G-d’s command had serious repercussions for Avraham. If he had known this, would he have still been so eager?

After the climax of the Akeida and Sarah’s death (ironically called, “The Life of Sarah”), Avraham’s life totally changes when Yitzchak leaves after they come down the mountain. After Sarah is buried in the Cave of Machpeila, the father and son part ways forever and Avraham is left to settle down with a new wife and start another family: a new phase of his life that fulfills the rest of G-d’s blessing to Avraham, but only after securing a bride for Yitzchak. Despite the fact his son won’t talk to him anymore, Avraham still insists on ensuring his son is cared for.

This is when we go from learning about the an unimaginable, incomparable, one-time sacrifice that ruins an entire family of Patriarchs, to focusing on the seemingly mundane life-cycle events of Jewish burial and matrimony.

In many ways, these parshot could not be more different. In another way, it is commentating on these events accurately. Despite the drama of it all, there couldn’t have been a more solemn time in Avraham’s life than mourning the loss of his most beloved wife and son, and meets the end of his old life all at the same time; both losses being a direct result of his own actions. Perhaps it’s fitting that these seem almost like two separate authors.

I can’t help but wonder what Yitzchak was thinking after coming down the mountain. Perhaps he left his father not only because of the trauma of the Akeida and losing his mother, but he wouldn’t take part in “Avraham’s Adventures” any longer. I didn’t even like being dragged to the grocery store by my parents, never mind a three-day journey to a mountaintop to be used as a sacrifice.

Maybe Yitzchak leaves his father to start his own spiritual journey, independent of Avraham’s legacy. Yitzchak chooses to serve G-d in his own way; in a tranquil field, awaiting the love of his life.

It also feels like a bit of a sick joke that Avraham is promised generations of righteous descendants, but G-d never shared that it would not be with Sarah; who was only given one son. But it also shows Avraham is willing to accept the repercussions of his actions and continue to do his best to follow G-d’s path for him. Avraham decides the end of his own story by choosing creation (and procreation) over self-destruction. Even if the end of his story is plain and uneventful, he chose it.

There is more than one way to choose to do good. We don’t need to live the most exciting lives at every moment. Everything we do doesn’t need to consciously contribute to some grander scheme. We can not always be making miracles–there comes a time when we need to settle down and enjoy a peaceful existence and Yitzchak demonstrates living our lives with intention is enough. But we must also be like Avraham, always ready to answer our call-to-action.