As we get older and we come to terms with our mortality, many of us are faced with the big question: How will we be remembered? Everyone leaves a mark on the world one way or another, so of course our goal in life should be to make that mark as positive and upbeat as possible. The question of how future generations will remember us should be the focus of how we live our lives today.
When our matriarch Sarah passed away, the Torah portion that contains the narrative of her passing is titled “Chayei Sarah” — literally meaning “the life of Sarah.” This seemingly contradicts the actual contents of the portion, which focuses on her death and her family picking up the pieces afterwards.
But that is where the answer lies. Immediately after describing Sarah’s passing and burial, the Torah moves on to the next chapter, an extended account of how her son Isaac finds a wife. Once Isaac marries Rebecca, we read that by him bringing his new bride into “his mother’s tent” he was finally comforted for the loss of his mother. More than just having someone to comfort him and to keep him company, Rebecca continued Sarah’s tradition of lighting Shabbat candles, and in general making their house a Jewish home. That’s when Isaac realized that his mother lived on through them.
When we lose a parent or grandparent, we mourn their passing for various periods (seven days, 30 days, 12 months), and then we are expected to move on with our lives. But as anyone who experienced a loss knows, moving on is easier said than done. It sounds nice on paper, but in reality letting go just isn’t as simple as it sounds. Of course, the memories live on but most people simply can’t put a loss behind them. And that’s totally normal.
So when we read about Isaac being comforted for his loss by his marriage to Rebecca, he most certainly does not put his mother behind him and he definitely doesn’t forget her. In fact, by marrying someone with almost identical values as his mother, by him and his wife being on the same page about how they would raise their children and that their family life would be Jewish-centered, that’s how he kept his mother alive within their home. He didn’t have to put her behind him, he put her front and center in his life and every time he thought about his mother, he saw how everything she taught him continued in his own home with his own family.
That’s why we refer to the period after Sarah’s passing as her “life” — sure, she lived a full life before she died, but her life was not complete until her impact on those around her became apparent. Only after Isaac married Rebecca—and together they picked up where Sarah left off and continued perpetuating her traditions—is there evidence of Sarah’s life.
Our ancestors have done so much for us and for the future of the Jewish people as a whole, and we owe it to them to continue their lives and legacies through our own commitment to a Torah-true way of life. Every mitzvah we do today honors our ancestors, and the more we do the more alive they will continue to be.
May we all live long and healthy lives, without bountiful “nachas” from our offspring. And when Moshiach comes and we are reunited with our departed ancestors, we will be able to present them with the evidence that their lives continued flourishing through us.