“The life of Sarah was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years.”  So says the Book of Genesis.  And the commentators wonder why the arithmetic?  Why not just give the sum — 127 years?  One answer is that Sarah lived in such a way as to extend the beauty and innocence of childhood and youth into her old age.  As beautiful at 100 as she was at 20, and as innocent at 20 as she was at 7.  No small achievement.  She died beloved and virtuous.Now Abraham has the sad duty to bury his wife. “Abraham came to eulogize Sarah, and to weep for her.”  He set the pattern for every worthy funeral service: first to celebrate a life, to admire the good qualities and the worthy deeds, to recall the joy and the love and the humor, in fact to praise that life — as long or as short as it was — and after that to mourn.   In memory our loved ones live on with us.   As Abraham taught.Mourning customs vary from one culture to another, of course.   I cannot comment on other people’s practices, but in my Jewish tradition we have customs that make powerful sense to me.  The first week after the funeral — called “shiva” (seven days) — is a time of deep mourning.  The bereaved family is expected to do nothing for themselves; others in the community come to help them, to bring them food, to hold services in their home where they remain, not going to work or school or shopping.  A seven-day candle burns in their home to symbolize the spirit of the deceased.  For the rest of the month — called “shloshim” (thirty days) — the mourners resume their daily duties but they do not visit the grave, and they stay away from frivolity such as shows, parties or other entertainment, which would be false to their own feelings.  Ten more months of mourning follow, during which the family members say “Kadish” (a prayer that accepts life on its own terms) in memory of their departed.  Traditionally it is the male direct relatives — son, father, and for the first month a brother  — who are obligated to do this in public services three times a day.   In many families women also take part, at least on the Sabbath.  And then comes the “yortzite” (the anniversary of death) when we encourage families to gather and honor the memory of their loved one by drawing together.  Frequently the first anniversary is the day chosen to place a stone on the grave.   We extend the act of memory with Yizkor (memorial) prayers on four annual Jewish holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Yom Kippur and Shmini Atzeret.  In traditional synagogues those who have living parents are invited to leave the room while those prayers are recited.  And we light 24-hour candles in their honor, remembering that “the human spirit is the light of G-d.”Back to Abraham and his relevance to our time.   He owned no land when Sarah died, so he needed to acquire a grave site.  The Torah tells of his negotiations with Ephron the Hittite to buy the field where the Cave of Machpelah is located, which became the cemetery for all the original ancestors of Israel — Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah.  I visited that cave in Hebron when it was a peaceful site, and the millenial memories moved me.  Now enemies deny the historic connection with my ancestors.   And the city survives frequent violence.  But the connection is there.  They lie there.  The Cave of Machpelah remains a sacred spot in their honor.   Hebron is rightly part of Israel as it holds the remains of the first Jews.  We still remember them, just as we remember those who were much closer to us.In memory they live.##

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