Welcome to this week’s episode of Better Know a Parsha.
This week we’re visiting Chayei Sarah: The end of the road for both Sarah and Abraham.
Chayei Sarah literally means “The Life of Sarah,” but the parsha opens with the death of Sarah.
Thankfully Sarah had lived a good long life, seduced a couple of kings, given birth to Isaac (forefather #2) and died at the ripe old age of 127.
So once Sarah has died Abraham turns his attention to where he will bury his wife. He does not have a family burial ground (remember, he came to this land with nothing) so he sets out to find a spot.
He settles upon the Machpela cave near Hebron.
Now there’s a little bargaining. Abraham says he wants to pay for the land, the owner wants to give it away. It’s the reverse of what you see my dad doing in the Shuk.
So Abraham gets the land, buries Sarah and then turns his attention to finding a wife for Isaac. He turns to his servant and has him testify that he will go back to Abraham’s homeland and find him a suitable wife.
Here’s the funny thing though, we learn here what “testify” actually means. Basically, we’re talking swearing on something, and if you think about what the route word for “TESTIfy” is… Let’s just say that’s where the servant had to place his hand while swearing the oath.
So the servant goes off to Abraham’s homeland and prays while he’s on his way that God will show him a “heavenly sign” to confirm his choice of women for Isaac.
Lo and behold the first young lady he meets when he arrives at the local watering hole offers to not only draw water for him but for his camels as well.
Turns out, not only is Rebecca great, but she’s also Abraham’s grand niece! Which at this point they didn’t really know about the possible genetic diseases that come from marrying relatives so that was a bonus!
So the servant gives Rebecca some gifts to take home to show her family so she’d know he means business and the two head back to her place.
The servant tells the family a very truncated version of Abraham’s story since he left and they all agree that it’s clearly divine will that Rebecca will marry Isaac. The servant explains that he’s gotta get back on the road cause Abraham ain’t getting any younger so he and Rebecca set off back for Canaan.
When they reach the area where Abraham was staying, they come upon Isaac who had gone out to pray in the field. The rabbis take the inspiration for personal prayer and meditation from Isaac and his solitary prayer.
So Isaac and Rebecca are happy, Abraham goes off and gets hitched again at quite an advanced age to a woman named Keturah (Yay Kibbuts Keturah!) and has a few more kids.
However, at the end of the Parsha he too dies—at the age of 175—and is buried in Hebron.
This is another place the Torah bumps into modern day issues. Hebron is deep inside the West Bank and is a spot holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians because our common ancestors are buried there. Unfortunately, the city—known in Arabic as A-Khalil—has become a flashpoint for violence. It was the scene of a 1929 pogrom that killed more than 60 Jews and a rampage by Baruch Goldstein in 1994 that killed 29 Muslims in a mosque.
The really sadly ironic thing here is that Isaac and Ishmael actually came together to bury Abraham after he died, it’s the last recorded meeting of the two brothers. We can only hope that their descendants can figure out a way to share the area in peace.
And on. I wish everyone a Shabbat Shalom, a shabbat of peace!