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Parshat Hiyye Sarah 5782        October 30,2021

Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom,

There is a famous poem that sometimes is read at funerals. Since our Parsha has two funerals, I would like to share today: THE DASH by Linda Ellis.

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.

He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.


He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears,

but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.


For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth

and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.


For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash.

What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.


So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?

 For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.


To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more

and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.


If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…

remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.


So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash,

would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?


The Biblical account of the death of Abraham basically uses this poem to describe the life of the first man to understand the world as the creation of one God. The Bible, of course, would never use so many words to describe anything. The Torah is known for being terse and concise. It contains this entire poem in one line: Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. (Genesis 24:1)

As the Torah prepares to describe the death of the first Patriarch, and sets the scene for the ascendancy of Isaac, that is how it sums up Abraham’s “dash;” advanced years and blessed by God with all things. And it is true, Abraham’s life will span 175 years and all the blessings that God promised Abraham at the beginning of his journey; fame, fortune, and family, all have come to pass. Now Isaac will be married to a proper wife, Abraham will die knowing that he has lived his life well, passing every test that God placed before him.

My study group this year is looking at the teachings of the Sefat Emet, the Torah commentary of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger. He is the third Rebbe of the Hasidim of Ger and he died in 1905. He was a mystic but not a student of Kabbalah. He was one of the last great Hasidic masters, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Alter, the first Gerer Rebbe. The teacher and guide to this material is Rabbi Dr. Erin Leib Smokler from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality in New York.

The Sefat Emet has an interesting comment on this part of our Parsha, on the “dash” that represents the life of Abraham. He writes, all that we have understood and been excited by should be in our memory; it should continually be [a source for] renewal. However, forgetfulness inevitably comes when we set aside the insight immediately and drown in worldliness and materialism. (God protect us.) That which the verse says about Abraham, our forefather, of blessed memory, “Abraham was now old, advanced in years” [means] that all the illuminations that he had every single day were gathered together in him…

In short, the Sefat Emet teaches us that we should take everything we learn and apply it every day to our lives. He admits that for most of us, we like to learn new things, but we don’t allow them to affect our lives. We see what is new, but we never really incorporate what it means into the way we live every day. We like our lives just the way it is, and while new things are nice, they usually do not inspire us to change in response to them.

Abraham was different, he took in many new ideas and philosophies and these ideas had a profound impact in his life. Abraham took all that he learned, and he understood the impact it could all have on his life and then he let himself be changed by the lessons he had learned. Abraham came to know the One God, the Creator of the Universe, and that was one of the facts that impacted the rest of his life. He was never afraid of change but faced it, learned its lessons, and let what he learned improve the way he lived.

Rabbi Smokler then adds her commentary; “This practice of daily renewal and the continuous accretion of insight is really hard, says the Sefat Emet. It runs counter to human nature that tends toward equilibrium. We see new things, encounter new ideas, or meet new people who stir our curiosity and passion. We have glimpses of possibility. But then, more often than not, we return to the familiar, the known, the comfortable. We are creatures of habit who crave stability. Yet the spiritual path modeled by Abraham resists this pull.”

She goes on to say, “The day-to-day discoveries we make; the moments of wonder; the intimations of beauty, holiness, or wholeness--all should be etched into our psyches. All should be preserved within us to nourish us and keep us new. Memory--soul memory, muscle memory--is a spiritual obligation. It is the root of rejuvenation. How? How does memory yield renewal? (Might it instead yield trauma?) I think it can do so through the maintenance of possibility. Who we have been helps us shape who we might be. What the world has been, helps us imagine what it might become. Who/what/where Spirit has been, might open up new ways for Spirit to be. The more experiences and awarenesses we can tap into, the more our horizons grow, the thicker and richer the world becomes, the more we can feel alive with opportunity. The more we “acquire” (koneh) our days, the more days we can fully live, the more zaken (older and wiser) we can be, regardless of age.”

Abraham lived a life of possibility. He knew that he could make anything possible. His “dash” his life was his to mold in anyway he wished. He let the possibilities of life be possible, not impossible. He knew he could grow every day and he let the possibilities of life direct how he would grow.

Which brings us back to the “dash” in our own lives. I am sure that everyone here can look back on his or her life and see the moments that directed who we have become today. We can remember life lessons from our parents. Advice from mentors and teachers we admired. We can think of inspiration we gathered from classic books, from great speeches, even from great works of art. We can look back on all that we have learned in the past, and we can discover the essence of how it all made us who we are today.

But as we look back, I think we can all see as well, the lessons we missed. The teachings that only now can we look back and see what we were supposed to see long ago. Sometimes we just were too young, foolish, impatient to really hear and see what could have been important if only we had understood the possibilities.

The lesson that Abraham teaches us is that it is never too late to be “zaken,” older and wiser. God has given us the ability to see possibilities in every day we are alive, and we can use those possibilities to always be growing. Our horizons can always be growing. Abraham continued to grow and improve every day for all of his 175 years. How much more can we continue to grow when we are just half his age!

I once saw a sign that read “How did I get over the hill without ever being on top?” That is a lament that, as a Rabbi, I hear all too often. People tell me that they are too old to be effective, too old to improve, and too old to try. Changing ourselves is demanding work and it takes lots of time and effort. But change is always possible. It is never impossible if we truly wish to incorporate what we have learned into our lives.

What do you know that will change your whole life for the better? Attending Daily Minyan? Mentoring a young businessperson just starting out? Tutoring a student so they can succeed in school and in life? Helping a neighbor who is having health issues? We can take what we already know and use it in ways that will improve the world as well as improve our own lives. In all of these cases, we can help others and at the same time, make something better of our lives.

It is never too late to make changes in our lives. It is never too late to learn something new and let it take you in a new direction. Something as simple as putting a sandwich in the hand of a hungry person at a food pantry, can change your life forever. To meet someone who hands out sandwiches every week, is to understand how a simple act can change the world. To be that person who is there every week, a person that the hungry can rely upon to help them through the day, not only does it change the world, but it makes a world of difference, for you and for those who will learn from your example.

Our “dash” will be what we make of it. At the end of our lives, it will not be what we know that will be remembered, it will be how we used that knowledge to spread love and peace in the world. Nobody knows where Abraham lived, where he worked or what kind of a tent he lived in, but everyone knows his reputation for hospitality, for kindness, for justice and for his faith. What kind of a reputation will we be known for? What will be remembered when considering that dash, that short line that marks the time, from our birth to our death? That answer is in our own hands, we create it every day we are alive.

May God help us find the spirit that will help us grow, live, and love every day we are alive as we say….

Amen and Shabbat Shalom

Tue, February 7 2023 16 Shevat 5783