By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
The translation of this week’s Torah parsha, Chayei Sarah, is ‘The Life of Sarah’. Ironically, only the first two lines of the parsha pertain to the death of Sarah and no other aspect of her life is even mentioned again. Rashi wrote that the death of Sarah is juxtaposed to the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac in order to teach that the shock and fear of hearing that her only son was almost slaughtered is what literally killed her (1).
The parsha focuses on two episodes, both narrated at length and with intricate detail.
The first story concerned the limited amount of land which Abraham possessed in Canaan. He had no place in which he could bury his wife. Abraham was forced to engage in a lengthy bargaining process with the neighboring Hittites to buy a field with a cave in which to bury Sarah. It was a tense, even humiliating experience for him to negotiate with strangers, possibly even enemies (2). Ultimately, Abraham is allowed to buy the land at a “greatly inflated price” (3).
After Sarah’s burial, Abraham realized the significance of the loss to his son. Isaac is approximately thirty-seven years old, yet the Torah provides scant information about him. The ‘midrash’ suggests that he followed his father in being pious, and with a sense of ethics, kindness and morality (4). Abraham decided that Isaac needed a wife who would be compatible with his personality.
Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, is designated as the individual to find such a woman for Isaac. In his precise instructions to Eliezer, Abraham emphasized that the desired wife must not be from Canaan, because of their idolatrous ways, and their general lack of ‘proper character’ traits. Instead, Eliezer was sent to Abraham’s original home and family in Charon.
Eliezer left for his sacred mission and arrived at the home of Abraham’s nephew, Bethuel. Hardly had Eliezer time to greet Bethuel, when he saw Rebecca approaching. She was beautiful and Eliezer was impressed with her gracious behavior. He learned that she was the granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother.
As soon as Abraham explained the objective of his trip, Nahor and Bethuel answered: “This matter has emanated from the Lord; take her back with you to Abraham and his son” (5).
Abraham, the first bearer of the covenant with God, had received two promises: Five times he was told that the land to which he traveled (i.e Canaan) would be his, yet Abraham held no land. The second was the promise by God of a multitude of children, also stated five times(6).
Abraham knew that God’s promises were prophecies, and it might take hundreds, or thousands of years for them to evolve into a reality. Nevertheless, Abraham, even in his humility, felt proud to begin the movement.
“Abraham expired and died in a good old age…old and satisfied”(7)
Abraham was the first Jew, and that is the Jewish legacy – – serving as an inspiration and a role model for all humanity(8).
(1) Rashi (23:2)
(3) GENESIS (27:17-20)
(5) GENESIS (24:50)
(7) GENESIS (25:8)