Students of Torah know that the text rarely spends time describing the emotional state of its characters. In fact, this is the only Torah portion that shares details of mourning for a woman. Abraham’s tears for his wife here are quite unexpected, and in order to understand their power, we have to understand their context.
Though I usually resent any broad generalizations that all men behave in a certain manner, it does seem clear that when they suffer a death, a strong majority of men are less comfortable expressing their feelings and more comfortable springing into action. We are good at making the arrangements, at picking people up at the airport. We show our love less by heartfelt expression than by demonstrable deeds.
Ultimately, Abraham provides a most useful model for men’s grieving. His journey shows a way that the “Dasher” or “Delayer” can easily become a “Displayer,” then a “Doer”–not someone running away from feelings, but a more emotionally mature man who uses his painful experience to become a more sensitive, directed member of the family and a community.
—R. Robert N. Levine
This excerpt is taken from “The Grace of Mourning,” the dvar Torah [word of Torah] offered for the portion Chayei Sarah in the collection, The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary.* Please see Source Materials for full citation and more information about this collection; the on-line preview at GoogleBooks does not include this chapter — one more reason to invest in this volume or ask your community center or synagogue library to do so. (This series includes several other references to this great resource.)
“What might Jewish men learn from all this?” Jeffrey K. Salkin asks in the volume’s introduction. “Among other things,
Jewish men might come to realize that authentic Jewish masculinity differs, somewhat, from the traditional American/Western version. “Men don’t cry.” “Take it like a man.” Tell that to Abraham, who weeps when Sarah dies; or to Jacob, who weeps when he meets Rachel; or to Esau, the biblical prototype of a non-Jewish kind of toughness, who weeps when Jacob deceives him. His tears are so copious that one tradition says the Messiah will not come until his tears have dried up.–p.xvii
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