April 17, 2024
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Acheinu: Connecting to Our People

Death as Ingathering

Whereas Lech Lecha and Vayera depict the lives of Avraham and Sarah, Chayei Sarah describes the transition from them to the next generation. After Sarah’s death, Avraham purchases a burial site for her (and future burials) and initiates the search for a wife for Yitzchak. Mearat Hamachpela will preserve Avraham and Sarah’s memory; Yitzchak and Rivka will perpetuate their legacy.

After detailing Avraham’s distribution of his possessions to his children, the Torah uses an interesting phrase to describe his death: “va’yei’asef el amav, and he was gathered to his people.”1

This phrase becomes the one the Torah uses to depict the death of other avot and tzaddikim, such as Yitzchak,2 Yaakov,3 Aharon,4 and Moshe.5 But while this makes sense for them, as they came after previous generations of Jews to whom they returned upon their death, it is hard to understand how it applies to Avraham, the first Jew! To whom was Avraham gathered when he passed away?

 

Lech Lecha and Vayera: Parshiyot of Separation

The answer lies in understanding Avraham’s relationship with his family in Chayei Sarah versus in the previous parshiyot of Lech Lecha and Vayera. In Lech Lecha and Vayera, Avraham was forced to separate from his family. First, Hashem commanded him to abandon his birthplace and father’s home. In the next perek, the childless Avraham needed to separate from his nephew Lot (the one person he could see as his “progeny”).

In Parshat Vayera, Sarah asked Avraham to banish his wife Hagar and son Yishmael to protect Yitzchak from them. Though it seemed wrong to him, he heeded Hashem’s directive to do so. After Hashem told Avraham to separate from his eldest son Yishmael and focus solely on Yitzchak (the true continuation of his legacy), Hashem then commanded him to sacrifice Yitzchak with his own hands.

Though Hashem ultimately spared Yitzchak, Parshat Chayei Sarah begins with the death of Sarah, Avraham’s lifelong partner. Avraham is left alone. He has a son who will continue his legacy, but no one else.

 

Chayei Sarah: Reconnection

The rest of the parsha, though, is a complete reversal—Avraham reconnects with both his birthplace and his family. First, when Avraham sends Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak, he insists that Eliezer travel to his birthplace. Though the residents of Aram Naharayim were idol-worshippers whom Hashem had commanded Avraham to distance himself from, Yitzchak’s wife (like Avraham’s) needed to come specifically from there, Avraham’s birthplace.

Hashem went even further by arranging for Yitzchak’s wife to be not only a resident of Avraham’s birthplace but also a member of his father’s family. Though Hashem commanded Avraham to abandon his birthplace and father’s home, Yitzchak’s wife had to emanate from both.6

In addition to his birthplace and father’s family, Avraham also reconnects with his wife and oldest son. And it is Yitzchak (for whose protection they had been sent away) who facilitates the reconciliation. While Eliezer was arranging a wife for Yitzchak, Yitzchak was doing the same for his father. Yitzchak felt that his father needed more than a wife. He needed to reconcile with the wife he had been told to banish, Hagar.

Avraham also reconnects with the other family member he had sent away—his son Yishmael. The Torah tells us that Yishmael was part of Avraham’s funeral procession.

Chazal teach that Avraham reconnected with his father Terach as well. Putting all three parts together, we see that in Parshat Chayei Sarah, Avraham reconnects with three generations of relatives he had separated from earlier in his life—his father, his wife, and his son.

Avraham did not die alone. He died (re)connected with all his family. These relationships are the backdrop to Radak’s explanation of “va’yei’asef el amav, to his family… whether… tzaddikim or resha’im.” Ultimately, our family, for better or worse, are “our people.”

When Parshat Chayei Sarah ends with Avraham’s death and reunification with Sarah in the Mearat Hamachpela, he is in a very different place than when he buried her at the beginning of the parsha. He is no longer alone with Yitzchak; he has reconnected with his estranged family.

 

Reconnecting in Life

People naturally reflect upon their relationships at the end of their lives. On our deathbeds, we cherish our connection with familythose living and those who have passed.

But there is no need to wait till that point. In fact, what we have at that point hinges on how we live beforehand. Avraham didn’t just reconnect to his family through his death; he rebuilt relationships while still alive.

We must do the same. The October 7 massacre and the subsequent attacks on and demonization of Jews worldwide have reminded us that we are one big family who are all in the same boat. The external enemy and threats have galvanized and unified us. We have experienced this feeling before in times of crisis. Sadly, the unity has only lasted as long as the crisis. It dissipated when the enemy was defeated and the threat was averted or addressed.

We sustain achdut (unity) by appreciating and internalizing that we are truly one family. Our relationship should be rooted in more than just a mutual threat and dependency. We must remind ourselves that we are one family. Our unity should be a fundamental part of our existential identity.

 

Acheinu Worldwide Unity Program

The Acheinu Worldwide Jewish Unity Program helps us accomplish this. Acheinu encourages Jews and Jewish communities around the world to strengthen achdut and shares suggestions for how to do so.

Additionally, Acheinu’s global initiatives offer Jews and communities worldwide the opportunity to daven, learn and sing together. We are all davening and learning. When we do it with one another, we strengthen our connection with Jews worldwide and our sense of achdut.

We encourage you to sign up to learn Mishnayot in memory of one of those massacred (specific Mishnayot are dedicated to each victim) and to daven on behalf of a hostage and an army unit (each perek is linked to a particular hostage and unit). Look out for the Acheinu Song Compilation, and join us on Nov. 19 at 11:00 a.m. New York time for the global siyum that will iy”H feature the world’s chief rabbis and leaders.

May our individual and communal achdut efforts help strengthen our kesher with our family and people during life, not just in death. May they help sustain our unity even after the cannons fall silent and make us worthy of Hashem’s mercy and redemption.

For more information about the Acheinu Jewish WorldWide Unity Program and to sign up for initiatives, see acheinu.world.


Rav Reuven Taragin is the dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel and the educational director of World Mizrachi.

 

1 Bereishit 25:8.

2 Bereishit 35:29

3 Bereishit 49:33.

4 Bamidbar 20:24.

5 Devarim 32:50.

6 See the Rabbeinu Bachaye on Bereishit 24:3.

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