If you’re a regular reader of this weekly missive, you know that I don’t normally name those whose actions or lives I use to illustrate the various themes and messages of each Torah portion. But this week has seen the too-early passing of two such people whose lives could, in the most positive sense, be held up as illustrative of so many admirable qualities, so many selfless actions, so much joy and generosity and compassion, so much life. It seems only fitting to call them out by name.
Roland Martin was a teammate, a friend, and an inspiration. I played football with him at Thomas Jefferson High School, and although he was born with a congenital defect in his femur that left one leg substantially shorter than the other, there was no fiercer, stronger, more inspiring football player. As he was on the field, so he was in life: fierce and strong.
Roland was 53 when he died.
John Brilliant, an aptly named, redheaded firecracker who kept us all on our toes and in stitches, was my BBYO brother. We did not see each other much after high school, but I can call up his megawatt smile at will, and I still remember the way the energy in every room into which he walked shifted into overdrive.
John died at the equally heartbreakingly young age of 52.
This week’s Torah portion notes the passing of Sarah, Abraham’s wife and the mother of his son Isaac. Abraham has come to eulogize Sarah, and the midrash asks, from where? From where has Abraham come? Some commentators answer the question literally: Abraham comes to Sarah’s graveside from that of his own father Terah’s. He is a man lurching from one great sorrow to another. Some commentators say Abraham has come from Mount Moriah, from the very place where—the very moment when—Isaac was spared from sacrifice at Abraham’s own hand.
Yet another interpretation suggests that the location from whence Abraham comes isn’t a literal place but rather a state of being, a state in which his potential hasn’t yet been realized. And the place to which he comes may be understood as yet another state of being, a state of being in which Abraham is, finally, capable of planting the seeds of a civilization in which idolatry and child sacrifice are anathema, seeds whose flowers generation upon generation upon generation will reap.
This latter interpretation recognizes that the root of Abraham’s potential—his capacity as a father and as the father of a nation—is Sarah’s influence. She is the place from which he comes.
We all come from a place of potential, a place of capacity, a place rich with possibilities. Roland and John are some of the places from which I come. May their memories be for a blessing.
Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO
Please email Rabbi Strear at CEO@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.