Former Shaliach in Cape Town (2001-2002)
Currently Tour Guide in The David’s Citadel Museum
This week’s Parsha, Chayei Sarah, was the first Shabbat of my shlichut in Cape Town, South Africa. Between Mincha and Maariv one of the Shlichim told this short and funny story: A young Jewish man went to New York City for the first time. As he was alone, and knew no one there, he decided to look for a fellow Jew to ask for help. He opened a phone book, and found the name Robert Cohen, so he thought to himself: “Cohen – he must be a Jew!”. He called Mr. Cohen, and said: “Hellow, I’m new in town, I’m Jewish, and I figured, as you are a Jew too, you’ll be able to help me”. Mr. Cohen replied: “ I understand, but I’m not Jewish.” “What do you mean, you’re not Jewish?! your name is Cohen!”. Mr. Cohen said: “Yeah, I’m not Jewish; my father wasn’t Jewish; and even my Grandfather, Olov Hasholem, wasn’t Jewish!”.
In this Parsha, there are two events that occur in every person’s life. In these two events, most Jews, even not observant ones, choose to have the ceremonies in the traditional Jewish form. The first event is when someone, unfortunately, dies; even if one didn’t foster his Jewish identity, he still wishes to be buried as a Jew. The second event is much happier; I believe most Jews choose to get married in a Jewish traditional wedding. In this Parsha we read about these two events: the burial of Sarah, and the wedding of Yitzhak. I looked for a connection between these events or ceremonies, in our Parsha and in general.
I began looking at the source of the ceremonies, the Rambam on Hilchot Avlut (chapter 1, Halacha 1) says: “it is a Mitzvat Asse (positive commandment) to mourn your relatives: ‘…and if I had eaten the sin-offering to-day, would it have been well-pleasing in the sight of the Lord?’ (Leviticus 10, 19); according to the Torah, the mourning is mandatory only on the first day, the day of death and burial, as Aharon mourned his sons. The rest of the Shiva, the seven days we have today, is not a Torah commandment, even though it is said about Joseph: ‘…and he made a mourning for his father seven days.’ (Genesis 50, 10).
Moses was the one to give Israel the custom, the Minhag, to have seven days of mourning, and also the seven days of Sheva Brachot after the wedding ceremony.” The Rambam himself connected these two life events and ceremonies. All adjudicators agree with Rambam regarding the mandatory to hold only the first day of mourning, as well as only the actual wedding ceremony. The rest of the seven days, in both weddings and burial, are a rabbinical obligation. Some adjudicators say that on the seven days of Sheva Brachot, the couple are prohibited to do any labor (Melacha), as well as people in mourning. In both cases there is a first year issue: one year for a husband to please his wife, and one year of saying Kaddish. Both events are connected and feature similar numbers (one day, one week, one year).
I believe there is an even deeper link. In our Parsha, when Yitzhak brings Rivkah to his tent, after his mother’s death, the Torah says ‘And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for his mother’ (Genesis 24, 67). A Midrash says that as long as Sarah lived, a candle burned from Shabbat to Shabbat, there was blessing in the dough and a cloud was tied to the tent. When she died, these three miracles ended, and began again when Rivkah came to live in that tent. Rabeinu Behayey explains that Yitzhak had not recovered his mother’s death, until he married Rivkah. Rashi also says a man takes comfort of his mother’s death when taking a wife.
I humbly suggest my own commentary to the connection between those events and ceremonies.
One of the things a person in mourning does is say Kaddish for one year. In Kaddish, when we say “Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba”, we ask to exalt and sanctify the name of G-d. Why is it so important to say this when someone dies? It is because that, in fact, every Jew has the potential to expose and reveal the existence of G-d in the world. That is to say, when a Jew dies, we wish to sanctify G-d’s name in the absence of the soul who passed away; thus, no praise is missing with the loss of the deceased.
In marriage we praise an even greater potential being created, as a match, a Zivug, can bring more ‘potentials’ to the world to sanctify the name of the Lord. We lose a ‘potential’ in a funeral, as a person dies; we gain a greater potential in a wedding. This is a strong link between the events of life and death. We compensate a loss of a ‘potential’ in funeral by creating a new one in a wedding.