There is such a wonderful walking rhythm to our Torah readings, especially perhaps in the Book of Bereshit, Genesis. It can feel like we are actually moving our feet, alongside Avraham and Sarah. These stories, even with all their fractiousness intact, help us walk through our own lives. This week, in Chaye Sarah, we read about the death of Sarah. Death and life, tumah (impurity) and tahor (purity) inform much of Torah. How do we bring these sensibilities forward from their lives to ours?
In my d’var last Friday night, I mentioned I had attended the levayah (funeral) for a Jewish woman in Victoria. She was a member of Congregation Emanu-El, but in death, particularly, though certainly also in life, affiliations become utterly unimportant. She was a Jewish woman, a mother, a wife, and she was being buried. Jennifer Karmona had built a career in BC, working with Indigenous people, and the impact of various development projects in BC on First Nations. I mentioned in my d’var the large (disproportionate to our demographic presence) number of Jews I have known over the past 40 years, both personally and proximally, who have and continue to contribute to this work. Land claims, Indigenous language reclamation and intercessions between development and sustainability.
I think there is a fascinating and incredibly encouraging conjunction of our histories that draws Jewish people to working alongside our First Nations peoples. Perhaps as Jews we understand very viscerally the magnitude of calamity we have all suffered. Perhaps we understand the sheer necessity of reclaiming language to enable a thriving peoplehood. “If the Jews can do it, we can do it” claimed a First Nations elder to me over dinner many years ago, talking about her (then) 11 trips to Israel. As Jews we brought Hebrew back into the realm of the living. She was convinced that recovering her ancient tongue and language was also key to the very survival of her people.
As Canadians we have a duty to make Canada a stronger nation – by building bridges (as our aptly named lecture series is called). Let’s continue to use our own distinctive Jewish resources and sensibilities to help build further, wider, deeper, towards a more united Canada, built on a foundation of respect and dignity of all peoples.
And, as we read Torah, let’s learn from the stories of our ancestors. As we read this week about Avraham purchasing the Cave of Machpelah, the burial cave that will house his beloved Sarah in her death, we too recognize the sacredness of burial, of burial grounds, and of the eternal compact such burial practices provides between a people and their land. For us. And for our First Nations neighbours. And for so many of the peoples we live with and around. May we continue to work together to build our future together, as proud Canadians.Ken y’he ratzon,