Thanksgiving weekend seemed an appropriate time to think about the matriarchs in our lives. First, there were the matriarchs at many of our Thanksgiving tables. At mine their were two, my mother and my brother’s mother-in-law. Then there is Sarah, the matriarch of us all. The Torah portion that bears her name was read in shul the same weekend.. And lastly, there is Emily Gilmore, perhaps the most formidable of them all, and the one who may just have the most surprising journey.
You would have to be living under a rock without wifi to not know that this past week, long-awaited additional episodes of the Gilmore Girls dropped on Netflix. The Gilmore Girls debuted in October of 2000 on the WB and ran for 7 seasons. I was not the right age demographic for the show when it debuted, but I caught up with it a year or so ago, binging my way through. It tells the story of Lorelei Gilmore and her relationship with her daughter Rory whom she gave birth to at 16. Their relationship was closer to that of friends than mother-daughter. The other Gilmore girl is Lorelei’s mother, played by Kelly Bishop. (Fun Fact: I saw Kelly Bishop in the original cast of A Chorus Line way back in 1976. She won a Tony for that role.) In the tv show she is the wealthy, DAR member, bitchy, take-no-prisoners wife of the late Edward Herrmann as Richard Gilmore. In the 7 years of the tv show, she seemed to go through a different maid every episode, negotiated every move at the country club, was constantly angry at her daughter, and only showed a bit of weakness her granddaughter. She was the stereotyped rich Connecticut matriarch.
In the coinciding Torah portion (not that I think the Gilmore Girls team coordinated this in any way, although it would be fun to think they did), the matriarch Sarah dies. More exactly, the portion opens with the line “Now Sara’s life was one hundred years and twenty and seven years, (thus) the years of Sara’s life” (Everett Fox translation.) This is how the week’s reading starts. It seemed like it was just last week, or a least in the previous portion, that she gave birth to Isaac. Her behavior in casting out Hagar is not exemplary and the biggest adventure that she had was playing Abraham’s sister in the presence of the King Abimelech. If she has a journey, we do not hear about it. We can surmise what it might have been like to raise a child after praying for one for so long. We can wonder about the division of weekly parshaot. Why is the opening line not tagged to ending of the previous portion? The main storyline before the break is the Akeda, the binding of Isaac. I’ve heard it suggested that Sarah followed Abraham and Isaac up that mountain and saw the near death of her son. The son that she waited all her life for. Unfortunately the matriarchs are not really fleshed out in the Torah and even the commentaries are lacking. So we are left to wonder about her journey.
Back to our other matriarch. Fast forward nearly ten years to the new episodes of the Gilmore Girls and we find Emily, shaken by the loss of her husband. While the younger Gilmore girls stay pretty much the same, just older, Emily is the one to go through a true transformation. Spoiler alert: Emily sheds her shell that hardened over the years, leaves her cold mansion behind (but not her money), to find herself near the ocean on Nantucket. Along the way, she picks up a new family, her maid and her husband, cousins, children, etc. Emily literally calls BS on the DAR and creates a new world for herself.
Let’s, just for the fun of it, compare Emily Gilmore to Sarah Imanu (Sarah our mother). Perhaps, ironically, the pathway to comparing these matriarchs is through their maids. Sarah was jealous of her maid’s ability to bear Abraham’s child. Once she was able to bear her own, Sarah had no use for Hagar and threw her out. (Worse yet, she had Abraham do it.) At no point did she seem to evolve. Emily, the biggest curmudgeon of all, always concerned with her place in the community, is able to evolve and even become the caretaker to her maid and their family. Perhaps if Sarah had lived in the 21st century she might have been able to evolve too.