Parashat Hayyei Sarah 5782 - Places of the Past and the Positions of the Future

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The relationship between place and memory is inextricable. Places create memories, memories connect us to places. Likewise the dynamic of projecting our desires onto a place is similarly significant, hence "the grass is always greener" phenomenon. Human memory, however, is entirely unreliable. Once we create a memory of the past, it ceases to be real. Humans are actually incapable of maintaining a perfect grasp of a memory - we embellish, or subconsciously omit aspects, we turn it into a visage of what actually was. And yet, in so many ways, that visage of what actually was becomes more "true" than anything that was ever "real." Similarly, when we relate to place through memory, that connection becomes more "true," even as it ceases to be "real."

In Parashat Hayyei Sarah, the story begins with Avraham acquiring a place to bury is wife, Sarah. That connection to place establishes a link to the future as it will be destined to become the burial space for not only Sarah, but also Avraham, Yitzhak, Rivkah, Yaakov, and Leah. It also establishes a memory through that connection to place - a memory of a multi-generational family unified in death that was never actually unified in life. Avraham and Sarah lived apart for so many years; Avraham traumatized his children and they, too lived, apart from the rest of their family. While Yitzhak and Rivkah come to experience a deep love in this week's Torah portion, it will be disrupted later in the Torah by Rivkah's ruse in tricking her own husband into blessing her favored twin son. Yaakov will come to engage in trickery and deceit, tearing apart his own family in the process. And yet, our memory of these characters is so often bound up in a projection of righteousness that is simply not present in the story.

When Avraham is on his deathbed in this week's Torah portion, he sends his servant back to the land of his ancestry to retrieve a spouse for his child (who has become estranged from him following the violent episode atop Mount Moriah). It is shocking, considering Avraham's story begins with God commanding Avraham to leave his home, to abandon the culture of his ancestors, and establish a new life in a new place. The story begins with Avraham acquiring a burial place for Sarah and concludes with Yitzhak bringing his new wife, Rivkah, to his deceased mother's tent. Avraham refuses to allow for his son to marry a woman from the area he now resides, yet ignores the reality of his own past - the idolatrous culture of his ancestors. Likewise, he respectfully tends to the needs of burying his wife to pay respect, yet while she lived he obeyed the command to sacrifice their only son on top of a mountain. Even that place, marred by the blood (either attempted or succeeded depending on how one reads the narrative, will come to be the location of the Temple in Jerusalem.

This is the nature of our relationship to past and future as it relates to our relationship to place. We project onto our memories a hope for the future, we project onto the places of significance of our lives a manicured view of the past and a hopeful view for the future. Reality and truth are two different expressions of human consciousness. Whatever the reality of the past may have been, whatever the future may hold, it is the truth of our connection to memory that determines our relationship to place - either because a new place will replace our old memories, or our new memories will replace our old relationship to place.

Rather than seek to remedy this contradiction, it is best suited for any of us to embrace the contradiction, to live into the stories we craft. Not because we seek to fool ourselves into a false notion of connection to place and past, but because our future is determined by the relationship we craft today and the lessons we learn through the relationship we experienced in the past.

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