This week’s Torah reading begins with the death of Sarah but concludes with the death of Abraham. At his death, Abraham’s life is characterized as having been full of satisfaction. How so?
Satisfaction suggests goals met and plans fulfilled. Abraham’s life, on the other hand, was punctuated by disruption and derailment. A conventional life going into his father’s idol business in Ur was uprooted by Divine orders to emigrate to a strange land. Once there, famine temporarily drove him back out. His plan to separate from his kinsman, Lot, is followed by his having to go to war to rescue him. He agreed to send off his son Ishmael into the desert only to accept him back and, under duress, he sent him away again. He learns that despite his and Sarah’s advanced age, his legacy will be borne by a new son, Isaac. Despite that promise, God orders him to sacrifice that son. In the instant before he can fulfill this unimaginable commandment, he receives an abrupt Divine order to desist. Such unremitting unpredictability would seem to be associated more with a chaotic life than a satisfying one.
We romanticize life to be a pristine journey; boasting a hopeful beginning, a promising middle and an accomplished end. Completion is generally considered a virtue; rupture a tragedy or time for taking stock. Essays and projects must be completed, the plots of movies and books must be resolved before “The End.” Interruptions are suffered as inconvenient nuisances and are accorded no value. But life subject to a demanding God is no fairytale. It is the satisfaction earned by Abraham, where disruption demands change of course, and navigation with integrity is better than crossing some cherished finish line.
Rabbi Mitch Levine