Chayei Sarah 5776

 

Genesis 23:1-25:18

Haftorah 1 Kings 1:1-31

 

 

Paradoxically, the Torah section entitled Chayei Sarah ("The Life of Sarah") deals entirely with events that occurred after Sarah's death. The first verse of the Parshah tallies the lifespan of the first of the Four Matriarchs of Israel:

 

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years, twenty years and seven years; these were the years of Sarah's life.

 

The second verse reports:

 

Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, that is Hebron, in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.

 

Presenting himself as "a stranger and a resident amongst you," Abraham approaches the people of Het with the request to purchase a plot of land for Sarah's burial. Abraham is particularly interested in the Machpelah Cave ("the double cave" or "the cave of the couples") and the surrounding field--a property belonging to Ephron the son of Chefer.

 

Ephron declares that he is prepared to give the cave and field to Abraham free of charge, but also letís fall that he values the property at 400 silver shekels. So,

 

Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Het, four hundred shekels of silver in negotiable currency...

 

Then Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre, that is Hebron in the Land of Canaan.

 

Thus "the Machpelah Field with the cave in it" in the heart of Hebron became the first Chosen-owned plot of land in the Holy Land.

Eliezer's Mission

 

"Abraham was old and come along in days; and Yahweh had blessed Abraham in all things"--so it was time to find a wife for Isaac.

 

Abraham summons Eliezer, "the eldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had" and says to him:

 

"...Swear by Yahweh, Elohim of heaven and Elohim of the earth, that you will not take a wife to my son of the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife to my son Isaac..."

 

And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; all the goods of his master were in his hand. And he arose and went to Aram Naharayim, to the city of [Abraham's brother,] Nachor.

 

How to find the right woman to marry Isaac and become the second matriarch of Israel? Eliezer had a plan.

 

He made his camels kneel down outside the city by a well of water at the time of evening, at the time that the women go out to draw water.

 

And then he prayed:

 

"O Yahweh, the Elohim of my master Abraham... Behold, I stand here by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water.

 

"Let it come to pass that the maiden to whom I shall say, 'Please, set down your pitcher that I may drink,' and she shall say, "Drink, and I will give your camels drink also'-- she is the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac..."

 

Things now happen swiftly:

 

Before he had finished speaking, Rebecca came out... with her pitcher upon her shoulder. And the girl was very fair to look upon...

 

The servant ran to meet her, and said: "Please, let me drink a little water from your pitcher." And she said: "Drink, my master"; and she hastened, and let down her pitcher upon her hand, and gave him drink.

 

And when she had done giving him drink, she said: "I will draw water for your camels also, until they have done drinking." And she hastened, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again to the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels.

 

Eliezer "looked at her wonderingly, but kept his peace, waiting to know whether Yahweh had made his journey prosperous or not" for he still had to determine if she met the criteria insisted upon by Abraham--that Isaac's wife be "from my kindred."

 

Still, he must have been fairly certain that she was the one, because he immediately gave her "a golden ring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold," in effect betrothing her to Isaac. Only then did he ask:

 

"Whose daughter are you? Tell me, I pray thee: is there room in your father's house for us to lodge in?"

 

And she said to him: "I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milka, whom she bore to Nachor."

 

She was Abraham's brother's granddaughter! Then she answered his second question: "We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in."

 

The Family of the Bride

 

Rebecca runs home, and Eliezer and his ten camels follow. There he is greeted by Rebecca's brother, Laban, who provides feed for his camels and water for him and his camel-drivers to wash their feet.

 

And there was set food before him to eat, but he said: "I will not eat, until I have told my errand."

 

And he said: "Speak."

 

And he said: "I am Abraham's servant.

 

"And Yahweh has blessed my master greatly... He has given him flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses.

 

"And Sarah, my master's wife, bore a son to my master when she was old; and to him he has given all that he has."

 

The Torah now repeats the entire sequence of events--Abraham's instructions to Eliezer; Eliezer's arrival at the well; his prayer and the "test" he invented; Rebecca's appearance and her actions; Eliezer's gifts to her and his conversation with her--this time as told by Eliezer to Rebecca's family. Laban and Bethuel respond:

 

"The thing comes from Yahweh; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebecca is before you, take her, and go, and let her be your master's son's wife, as Yahweh has spoken."

 

The next morning, however, her mother and brother (Bethuel is mysteriously absent) have some last-minute objections: there are many arrangements to be made, a trousseau to be prepared. "Let the girl stay with us a year or ten months; after that she shall go."

 

Eliezer, however, insists that they must set out immediately. "Hinder me not, seeing that Yahweh has prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master."

 

And they said: "We will call the girl, and inquire at her mouth." And they called Rebecca, and said to her: "Do you want to go with this man?"

 

And she said: "I will go."

Marriage

 

And Rebecca and her maids arose, and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man; and the servant took Rebecca and went his way.

 

And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the evening time; and he lifted up his eyes and saw, behold, camels were coming.

 

Rebecca lifted up her eyes and saw Isaac; and she fell from the camel.

 

And she said to the servant: "Who is this man who walks in the field to meet us?" And the servant said: "It is my master." And she took her veil, and covered herself...

 

And Isaac brought her into the tent [of] his mother Sarah. And he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother.

The Other Sons of Abraham

 

Our Parshah has one more event to relate before concluding:

 

Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bore him Zimran, and Yakshan, and Medan, and Midyan, and Yishbak, and Shuah.

 

The Torah, however, is quick to point out that these additional sons of Abraham were not to be included in the Abrahamic legacy:

 

Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from his son, while he yet lived, eastward, to the east country.

 

Thus the Torah concludes its account of Abraham's life:

 

And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life which he lived: a hundred years, and seventy years, and five years. Then Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.

 

And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the Cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Het: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.

 

The Torah also informs us that Ishmael died at age 137 years, after fathering twelve sons, each of whom was the prince of a domain; the territories of these twelve clans extended "From Havilah to Shur, which is before Egypt, all the way to Assyria."