Thursday, October 24, 2013

Chayei Sarah (“the Life of Sarah”) B'reisheet (Genesis) 23:1-25:18

Chayei Sarah (“the Life of Sarah”) B'reisheet (Genesis) 23:1-25:18
                                                        Melachim Aleph (1 Kings) 1:1-31
                                                        Matthew 8:19-22, 11:1-13:30, 27:3-10
                                                        Luke 9:57-62

Fiddler On The Roof introduced us to the well-known song “Sunrise, Sunset”. Others refer to 'the Circle of Life'. Our portion, the second shortest in B'reisheet, starts with the remembrance of Sarah's life – 100 years, and 20 years, and 7 years. Rashi states that the breakdown is such, so as to remind us that at the age of 20, Sarah had the innocence of a 7-year-old; and that at the age of 100, she had the beauty of a 20-year-old. The portion basically closes with the death of Abraham, who had a parallel breakdown – at 100 he was as a 70-year-old, and at 70, he was sinless as a 5-year-old (so much
for the sin nature of man).

Some speculate the cause of Sarah's death as being from fear (אימה) some say of Isaac's sacrifice – the loss of the only heir, others say of Abraham's (possible) lack of trust resulting in failure to sacrifice Isaac. Neither view is of real consequence in this Parsha, as she has already passed on. What is important, is that the life keeps going, even with such an important event as the passing of a loved one.

The scene changes to the mission of obtaining of a wife for Isaac. Although Eliezer of Damascus is referred to as 'the Man' and 'Abraham's servant' in this portion, his identity is pretty much universally agreed upon. Abraham gives him the task of going to Haran to fetch a wife (not from the Canaanites, but from Abraham's home/people.

On the surface, it seems like choosing the lesser of two evils, because Abraham was told to leave his home and his family to travel to a land which HaShem would show him. So how do we reconcile the choice of one set of evil pagan worshipers versus another set of idol worshipers? The Midrashim talk about Abraham having converts to Monotheistic Worship of HaShem. One of these converts, a Devorah, was left in Haran to use her righteous influence as a maid to help raise Rivkah with good moral character. The test that Eliezer setup for the prospective bride for Isaac, unlike an 'omen' (a mere, unrelated sign to guide), was to test the young woman's character. Only a virtuous, hospitable woman would go out of her way to draw extra water from the well, give him (a stranger, well past his prime) and his ten camels said water to drink.

There were some delays and issues with Laban, over gifts/money/departure schedules, but Eliezer was patient, and Rivkah went to become Isaac's wife. Her compliance became the turning point where Eliezer became her servant, instead of 'the man'. This was the transition where Abraham started to pass the mantle to Isaac. The scriptures talk about Rivkah 'lighting' off or quickly dismounting her camel, but the scriptures give the impression of falling off, when she saw Isaac. He took her to his Mother's tent, married her and was comforted in the loss of his mother. His Father marries Keturah (Hagar?) and they have children. The portion mentions the passing of his father (some 38 years after his mother's passing). After Ishmael and Isaac bury their Father, the scriptures talk about the descendants of Ishmael.

One further point that came up as I was studying for this Parsha, was the fact that Abraham parallels those who convert, whereas Isaac parallels those who were born into an observant family. Isaac was the first FFB (Frum From Birth). Each has their own distinct challenges and blessings.

Shabbat Shalom.

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