This week we read about the death of Sarah. The portion begins: “Sarah’s lifetime—the span of Sarah’s life—came to one hundred and twenty seven years. Sarah died in Kiryat Arba—now Hebron—in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.” (Genesis 23:1-2) Abraham then proceeds to purchase a burial plot from the Hittites to bury Sarah. It is this purchase that makes the Cave of Machpelah a holy site and Hebron the first Jewish city. All the patriarchs and matriarchs are buried there except Rachel who is buried in Bethlehem.
Both of these cities are of course in the modern day West Bank and despite my Jewish history and commitments thus found in disputed territory. I have visited Hebron a number of times and spoken with the Jews who live there, a small, zealous outpost of settlers among a multitude of Arabs. I remember once asking, “Why would you want to raise your children in such a dangerous and life-threatening environment?” Their answer was simple and direct, “Because this is our home!”
I have been reflecting on this sentiment during the past week as I first watched people refusing to leave their homes despite evacuation orders and then vowing to rebuild their homes despite the fact that their towns will be subject once again to devastating hurricanes and tidal surges. (I believe this storm is only the beginning of the changes we might see because of the “weather weirding” brought on by climate change.)
What makes so many refuse to let go of their homes? What makes even rational people stay in their freezing homes despite the fact that they have plenty of invitations of warm beds elsewhere? (I stand guilty!) What makes us so attached to these mere physical structures? What makes us cling to these places even when it might not serve our best interests or may even jeopardize our safety?
I have long believed that communities are defined not by the buildings they construct but instead by the people who inhabit them. A family is more than the house in which they live. A neighborhood and community, a family and nation, can then survive despite even the worst of devastations. As much as we might invest in these buildings they are not what is most important or even what should be most lasting.
Yet it took the temperatures to dip into the 30’s before my family and I finally decamped to another home. Once it becomes a home it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine that our house might not be the protecting shelter it has always been. But this is exactly what we must imagine. In order to march forward we must time and again let loose of the grip of these buildings, and places, and even our very homes. Holding on these we might never be able to change or carve a better path toward a brighter future.
What will guarantee our future will never be our beautiful homes, or even our holiest of cities, but the people, and communities, with which we surround ourselves.
And finally we pray for President Obama and all of our newly elected leaders. May they put aside partisan ideologies and instead look toward the work that can only be done together in order to better our great nation. May compromise and the common good of all become the defining features of a shared and better future.