Friday, November 25, 2016

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Ḥayyei Sarah 5777–Contentment


וְאֵ֗לֶּה יְמֵ֛י שְׁנֵֽי־חַיֵּ֥י אַבְרָהָ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־חָ֑י מְאַ֥ת שָׁנָ֛ה וְשִׁבְעִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְחָמֵ֥שׁ שָׁנִֽים: ח וַיִּגְוַ֨ע וַיָּ֧מָת אַבְרָהָ֛ם בְּשֵׂיבָ֥ה טוֹבָ֖ה זָקֵ֣ן וְשָׂבֵ֑עַ וַיֵּאָ֖סֶף אֶל־עַמָּֽיו: ט וַיִּקְבְּר֨וּ אֹת֜וֹ יִצְחָ֤ק וְיִשְׁמָעֵאל֙ בָּנָ֔יו אֶל־מְעָרַ֖ת הַמַּכְפֵּלָ֑ה אֶל־שְׂדֵ֞ה עֶפְרֹ֤ן בֶּן־צֹ֨חַר֙ הַֽחִתִּ֔י אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י מַמְרֵֽא: י הַשָּׂדֶ֛ה אֲשֶׁר־קָנָ֥ה אַבְרָהָ֖ם מֵאֵ֣ת בְּנֵי־חֵ֑ת שָׁ֛מָּה קֻבַּ֥ר אַבְרָהָ֖ם וְשָׂרָ֥ה אִשְׁתּֽוֹ:

This was the total span of Avraham’s life: one hundred and seventy five years. And Avraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin. His sons, Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Maḥpelah, in the field of Ephron the Hittite, facing Mamre. the field that Avraham had bought from the Hittites; there Avraham was buried, and Sarah his wife.

The English translation is smooth and poetic, though not quite literal. There are some interesting things to parse out here. I’ll point out but otherwise gloss over how the biblical text here, and elsewhere, indicates years of life in a more convoluted syntax. (Here, 100 years, and seventy years, and 5 years.) Let the interpreters make of those what they wish (and many have both for Sarah and Avraham and others.)

The next verse is interesting in how it uses two different words to describe Avraham’s death. וַיִּגְוַ֨ע  וַיָּ֧מָת . Vayigva – built upon the root that means to expire, to pass away, or to perish. It’s the idea of expiring that gives the JPS translation committee the leave to say “breathed his last.” The second word, Vayamot, is reasonably translated literally as “died” but it doesn't stand alone, it connects to the following words describing the state in which Avraham died – b’seiva tovah, zakein v’savei-a – literally with good gray-haired-ness, old and contented (or fulfilled.)

All of which was a bit of a round-about way of getting to where I wanted to be.  Contentment.  Being contented is generally defined (according to Merriam-Webster) as showing or feeling satisfaction with possessions, status or situation. This same verb root is used in the verse that became the basis for the grace after meals, though there it is generally translated as satiated or satisfied. Aye, but here’s the rub. One reason, our tradition teaches us, that the commandment to give thanks after a meal, is that when one is hungry, it is easier to think about asking G”d for food, but that when one is sated, it is too easy to forget to offer thanks to G”d for food.

How does this approach fit into death and dying, and being thankful for our lives? What does it mean to live a life for which, at the end, we can feel content, sated? At the end of our lives, is it easier for us to feel contentment, and thus be more willing to offer thanks to G”d for the life we have lived? Is it harder, when we’re actually living our life, to remember to say thanks? Is it the very act of remembering to say thanks on a  regular basis as we lives our lives the secret to being content, both during and at the end of our lives?

We, each of us, experience moments in our lives when we are not content, when we do not feel sated in some or all aspects of life. Life will be a series of ups and downs. This we know. There are those in our tradition (and others) that teach us that it is when our lives are at the very darkest, discontented points that we need faith the most. I know from my own experience that this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. However, even when I can’t find the wherewithal to have faith, perhaps I can find the wherewithal to offer thanks. Contrarian that I often am, I do find myself compelled to ask if it is sometimes okay to be discontented, to feel unfulfilled, even empty? Sometimes I wonder if positivity is all it’s cracked up to be.

I do believe my goal should be to die as Avraham did, old and contented. However, like Avraham, my life is not going to be one long exercise in sheer joy and contentment. What will enable me, at the end of my life, to feel content as Avraham did?

G”d willing, I have time enough left in my life to seek the answers to the question. Even if I never get there, I will have at least tried. My prayer for myself and each of us is that we are able to meet death as did our ancestor Avraham, b’-seivah tovah, zakein v’savei-a.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Chayyei Sarah 5776 - Still Not Warm (Revisited and Revised from 5767's "Never Warm")
Khayyei Sarah 5775 - Revisiting L'kha Dodi Likrat Kala
Hayyei Sarah 5774 - The Books of Hagar and Abishag
Hayyei Sarah 5773 - Still Tilting at Windmills
Hayyei Sarah 5772 - Zikhnah
Hayyei Sarah 5771 - The Book That Isn't - Yet
Hayyei Sarah 5770 - Call Me Ishamel II
Hayyei Sarah 5769 - Looking for Clues
Hayyei Sarah 5768 - A High Price
Hayei Sarah  5767-Never Warm?
Chaye Sarah 5766-Semper Vigilans
Chaye Sarah 5763-Life Goes On
Chaye Sarah 5762-Priorities, Redundancies And Puzzles
Chayeh Sarah 5761-L'cha Dodi Likrat Kala
Hayyei Sarah 5760 - Call Me Ishmael
Chaye Sarah 5757-The Shabbat That Almost Wasn't

No comments: