The Matriarch is Dead! Long Live the Matriarch!!
Tibetan Buddhists have the interesting tradition of searching for their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lamai, only after the previous one has died. They believe that the spirit of their leader is reincarnated in a child born after the leader’s death. This passing of the leadership torch amongst the Tibetans has been occurring since the 1400s, which is not so long ago by Jewish standards.
Approximately 4,000 years ago, the Torah notes with some detail (Genesis 23:1), our Matriarch Sarah passed away. Her son, Isaac, was the one in whom God chose to continue the complete Abrahimic tradition in worship of God, and transmitting His message via his future progeny. With Sarah’s mission accomplished, it was now time for the next generation to take center-stage.
Rabbi Ovadia Sforno is intrigued by the adjacent juxtaposition of the birth of Rebecca (Genesis 22:23) with the death of Sarah only 2 verses later. His answer is both simple and perhaps surprising. The death of Sarah and the birth of Rebecca are intertwined. He claims that when Sarah died, Rebecca was born. There needed to be Matriarcal continuity to the embryonic Jewish nation. This was provided by Rebecca with her timely birth, subsequent marriage to Isaac, her own delivery of Jacob and Esau, and then her pivotal role in the blessings they would receive.
Sforno states that Rebecca is the continuation of Sarah. While he doesn’t talk about reincarnation per se, there is certainly an element of it in this case. In the Dalai Lama theology, reincarnation may be central, but for us it’s just old news.
May we always enjoy and appreciate our part in the eternal people, and get to see our efforts of continuity bear fruit.
Dedication: This dvar torah is dedicated to Sarah and Baruh Mori of Istanbul, who were such fantastic hosts during my stay there. Sarah is a true Jewish Matriarch and a bastion of the Jewish community there, very much in the footsteps of her namesake.