WRJ Voices: Chayei Sarah

This Torah portion is Chayei Sarah, The Life of Sarah, Genesis 23:1−25:18. Sarah lived to be 127 years old; such was the span of Sarah's life. Genesis 23:1. 

In Chayei Sarah, Abraham purchases the cave of Machpelah in order to bury his wife Sarah. Abraham sends his servant to find a bride for Isaac. Rebekah shows her kindness by offering to draw water for the servant's camels at the well. The servant meets Rebekah's family and then takes Rebekah to Isaac, who marries her. Abraham takes another wife, named Keturah. At the age of one hundred and seventy-five years, Abraham dies, and Isaac and Ishmael bury him in the cave of Machpelah.

Abraham and Isaac waited for Sarah to die before they sought a bride for Isaac. Scholars suggest that Sarah was a strong matriarch who ran Abraham’s household, and therefore Isaac was not going to take a bride while she was still alive1.

When Abraham sends his servant to find a bride for Isaac, the servant asks, “Suppose the woman does not care to follow me to this land? Abraham answers his servant, “if the woman does not care to follow you, you are released from this oath of mine.” (Genesis 24:5–8)

Abraham’s servant meets Rebekah, from Abraham’s brother Nahor’s family, who shows him kindness. The servant asks Bethuel and Laban, Rebekah’ father and brother, if he can take her to be Isaac’s bride, and that G-d had decreed it. They reply that they cannot answer because G-d has decreed it. The next morning, when the servant asks to leave with Rebekah, her brother and mother ask if she can stay for 10 days. The servant asks them not to delay him. So they respond, “Let us call the girl and see what she has to say.” (Genesis 24:57). And when asked, Rebekah responds, “I will go.” (Genesis 24:57).

So in two different instances, the solution to a question is asking the woman, Rebekah, what she wants, and then following her wishes.

In Congregation Ner Shalom, my temple, the current president was born and raised in Prince William County, VA, and has been a member since she was born. After high school, she moved away, and eventually moved back to Prince William County and Ner Shalom. She became active in the temple and eventually the nominating committee asked her if she would be interested in being the next Temple President. Being (relatively) young compared to the previous temple presidents (she is in her 30’s), she responded by saying that she did not think that she was ready and that she preferred to serve first as Executive Vice President and then consider being President. So she served for a few years as Executive Vice President and now is our President. But, like Rebekah, she was asked, and she gave an insightful answer. And, unlike Sarah and Rebekah, the matriarchs of Abraham and Isaac’s families during separate times, our President’s mother is still a member, still active in the Congregation, and, in fact, served as sisterhood President and hence an ex-officio member of the temple board while her daughter was President!

It is important to ask people if they will join a board, both because the “ideal candidate” may not have the personal bandwidth available, or, alternatively, because the “ideal candidate” (like the fourth child at Passover) knows not how to ask and just needs the right nudge to get on the board and contribute great efforts.

I joined Ner Shalom’s sisterhood in 1999 and the following spring, 2000, they asked me if I wanted to be the next Sisterhood President! My response was, “yes, but what does the President do?” I would not have volunteered at that time to be on the Sisterhood board, let alone be President, so by being asked, and getting the right nudge at the right time, I joined the board. Of course, since then, I have always served WRJ, the Ner Shalom Sisterhood, and Ner Shalom itself in some capacity.

While personalities, individual capabilities and experience, and personal availability play a role, it is important to get the right people into the right positions on temple boards, sisterhood boards, WRJ district boards, and the WRJ board itself. In smaller temples and sisterhoods, finding the right people can be harder because there are fewer eligible candidates.

As an example, my sisterhood once had a member who was asked to be treasurer. She was a terrific sister (and a terrific person) who, due to an ailment which has afflicted her throughout her life, had not only never balanced a checkbook but had never even written a check. Yet she was nudged to be the sisterhood treasurer. With a lot of handholding and coaching from me and other sisterhood members, our sisterhood accounts were maintained accurately. But it was challenging that year!

So when you are thinking about next year’s board, or even a particular project needing someone to lead it, think about not just current leaders but also other people who might be a good fit, and then ask them if they are willing to serve. Some will say no, for whatever reason, but some will say yes and make great contributions. ASK!

Lucretia Levy is 1st VP of the Mid-Atlantic District and currently is a member of the WRJ board. She is past president and member of her Sisterhood at Congregation Ner Shalom in Woodbridge, VA.


[1] Dr. Ellen M. Umansky writes (https://reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/chayei-sarah/legacy-kindness-generosity-and-love) that “Once Isaac brings Rebekah into Sarah's tent, she formally becomes Sarah's successor as matriarch.”  Dr. Umansky cites contemporary Torah scholar Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg, who draws on the insight of the medieval Rabbinic commentator, Rashi, that “as long as a man's mother is still alive, he is involved (entangled) with her,” Isaac could fully turn to his own life and thoughts only after Sarah died.  (Zornberg, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire, The Jewish Publication Society, 1995, pp. 138-139).  Dr. Umansky notes that a midrash makes a similar point: “As long as Sarah lived, there was a blessing on her [challah] and the [Sabbath] lamp … when she died, these ceased, but when Rebekah came, they returned.  And so when he saw her following in his mother's footsteps … Isaac brought her into the tent.” (B'reishit Rabbah 60:16).

Published: 11/10/2017

Categories: Voices of WRJ