Hayyei Sarah is an invitation.
Imagine receiving an envelope addressed to you with hand-written Hebrew calligraphy. The calligraphy is the only ornamentation on the envelope. You open it and you are invited to life after trauma.
Some never check their mail because it’s too hard to get off the couch or because they’re high and then high again and then high again. But today you’ve checked your mail and now you’ve been invited into something beyond that old pain of abandonment; beyond the violence you witnessed as a child; beyond the pressure to be perfect and if not perfect, unloved; beyond the sexual assault; beyond the verbal abuse. You’ve been invited to living a life not mired by trauma, but growing from and beyond trauma.
During the Akeidah, the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham takes his beloved son Isaac to the top of a mountain to sacrifice him on an altar and is stopped – just barely – by an angel of God. According to midrash, Abraham and Isaac are silent as they walk down the mountain.
In this week’s parashah, Hayyei Sarah, they never speak again. Isaac has moved away from his father’s camp and has established himself in the Negev, a desert, where he goes for walks and meditates.
After attending to his own wife Sarah’s death and burial, Abraham turns his attention to finding a wife for Isaac. But he doesn’t go himself. He sends a trusted servant to find Isaac a wife. And once that task is discharged, Abraham remarries and has more children by Keturah.
Only at Abraham’s burial, which comes at the end of the parashah, does Isaac attend to his father, along with Ishmael, the son whom Abraham sent into the desert with his mother and one water skin.
After the terrible trauma of the Akeidah, Abraham withdraws from Isaac, sending a servant instead of finding a wife for Isaac himself. And Isaac withdraws from Abraham, setting up a separate camp across the hills and into the desert. The disconnection, the distance between them, seeps through the text. And we know this disconnection that comes after trauma – the pain, the loneliness, that folds into itself and burrows into our behaviors so that we can’t tell what’s the trauma and what’s really us. We become distant not only from others, but from ourselves, from God.
But the story doesn’t end with trauma. Abraham’s servant is successful in finding Isaac a wife. And when they first meet, Rebecca “falls off her camel,” and Isaac “loved her” (Bereshit 24:64, 67). Never had it been said that Abraham loved Sarah, or Noah loved Na’amah, or Adam loved Eve. But here: Isaac loved Rebecca, and if she didn’t love him, she at least fell off her camel for him.
In Hayyei Sarah, we are invited to live and to love. Even more, we are invited to love after trauma.
Whatever we went through, whatever we’re going through, life and love after trauma are possible. It is possible to be present enough – to be honest, vulnerable, and boundaried enough – to love after what you’ve been through. Yes, even you.
This parashah is an acknowledgment by God that traumas will happen, but they are not the end – unless we let them be the end. At the very beginning of the parashah called by her name, Sarah dies (midrash tells us) because she is so hurt, disturbed, disgusted, pained by Abraham’s nearly killing their son. And like Sarah, some of us will choose not to live past our traumas. We will become stuck in them, to continue to define ourselves by them and the reactivity they compel in us. And then, if we don’t die in body, we die in spirit.
But if we’re willing to accept the invitation that there’s something beyond our traumas, even if we don’t know what that something looks like, then we can recover ourselves and our relationships with others and with God.
The question asked of us is: will you accept the invitation?