Parshat Chayei Sarah

Torah Reading for Week of October 28 – November 3, 2018

“End of Life Decision Making, Reconciliation, and Legacy”

by Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, BCC, ‘07

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.

In this parshah, we experience the foresight that Abraham had in providing a burial site for his wife and his family. We also examine how Abraham wants to live out his legacy by making sure that Isaac has an appropriate wife from his kinship line. Then, Abraham goes off and marries Keturah, some say a pseudonym for Hagar, rounding out his last stage of life “his way”.  Finally, we witness the reconciliation of his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, who come to bury Abraham together. What a narrative about end-of-life and legacy Creation!

As a hospice chaplain, I work with end-of-life issues as part of my calling. In addition, I am now the Co-Director of an End of Life initiative with the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, entitled, the Sacred Jewish Conversation, in conjunction with the national Conversation Project. How I wish that this parshah were the way that my clients could live out their legacy, deal with family challenges, and fulfill their end of life wishes!

As part of the Sacred Jewish Conversation, we encourage people to have The Conversation that expresses how they want to experience the end stage of their lives. We encourage people to take care of any family issues that remain, to engage in the teshuvah that they need to make, to take care of their material estate as well as their spiritual estate. We work with people to create ethical wills and statements of personal values. We encourage people to discuss their bucket list with their loved ones, so that people know what still remains un-done and what they might help fulfill. Significantly, we try to help people discuss what medical care and end of life decisions they might want carried out as part of their dying process, if they can no longer express their desires.

We often avoid talking about our end-of-life desires, telling ourselves that we do not want loved ones to worry or to concern themselves with our needs. However, the most important time to have these conversations is when we are healthy, and have the capacity to fully engage in this critical conversation. Thus, I am including some of the questions that you might want to consider and share with your loved ones.

  • When you think about the last stage of your life, what’s most important to you? Describe what you want to help maintain your quality of life.
  • Do you have an end-of-life plan that makes it clear to everyone where you want to spend your declining years and how you wish to die? Do you wish to be at home, in a hospital or under hospice care?
  • To what extent will Jewish law dictate your wishes and do you have clergy who know your wishes?
  • What affairs do you need to get in order (personal finances, property issues, funeral arrangements, closure on relationships, etc.)?
  • Have you communicated what you decided in terms of these affairs?
  • Do you have a will or estate plan that clarifies your wishes to avoid future moments of crisis, stress, and family conflicts over your material legacy?
  • Have you created an “ethical will”? Do you have a statement that shares who you are, what you believe in, and describes your vision of life? What made your life worth living? What are the values, both Jewish and universal, that have guided you and that you wish to pass on?
  • Do you have an end of life spiritual legacy plan— a way of engaging with your loved ones that manifests your values? Do you want to share a vacation or set up family visits? Do you want to create a family trust or a tzedakah plan? Do you want to volunteer together in a tikkun olam/ restorative justice project?

Through its narrative arc in Chayei Sarah, we learn what our tradition considers important in terms of some of the end of life planning and reconciliation process that our ancestors engaged in. However, we don’t know the spiritual issues with which they wrestled. We have to determine those inner dimensions ourselves. Reflecting on their journeys,  we have to deal with the material nature of our end-of-life issues and to wrestle with the spiritual ones in our own lives and those of our loved ones.