PARASHAT HAYE SARAH - BIRKAT HAHODESH
November 26, 2005 - 24 Heshvan 5766
Annual: Genesis 23:1-25:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 127; Hertz p. 80)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 24:10 - 24:52 (Etz Hayim, p. 132; Hertz p. 83)
Haftarah: I Kings 1:1 - 31 (Etz Hayim, p. 143; Hertz p. 90)
Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL
Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director
Sarah dies at the age of one hundred twenty seven. Abraham must find a suitable burial place for his wife, and eventually for himself and family. He negotiates with Ephron the Hittite and buys the cave of Machpelah. The price is four hundred silver shekels, a fairly hefty price for that time.
Abraham is now old, and he is concerned that a proper wife be found for his son Isaac. He addresses the senior servant of his household, traditionally identified as Eliezer, telling him that he must go back to Abraham's homeland to find Isaac a proper wife. Under no circumstances is Isaac to leave the promised land, nor is he to take a wife from the local Canaanite women.
Eliezer travels to Aram-Naharaim and makes a vow by the well there. Whichever maiden comes forth to draw water, offering a drink to him and his camels, shall be the one who was decreed for Isaac. At that moment Abraham's great-niece Rebekah comes forth to draw water. She offers Eliezer a drink and brings water for his camels. He presents her with gifts and tells of his quest to find a wife for Isaac. Rebekah brings him to her home, where he repeats the story to her father, Bethuel, and her brother Laban.
Rebekah agrees to travel with Eliezer to marry Isaac. She sees Isaac meditating in the field, alights from her camel, and covers her face. Isaac and Rebekah marry, he loves her, and finds comfort after his mother's death. Abraham takes another wife and bears more children, dying at the age of one hundred seventy five. He is buried by his sons Isaac and Ishmael.
Issue #1 - Life and Death
"Sarah's lifetime - the span of Sarah's life - came to one hundred and twenty-seven years. Sarah died in Kiriath Arba, now Hebron, in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and bewail her" (Genesis 23:1-2)
- The parashah is called the "life of Sarah" although it speaks about the death of Sarah. Often we do not know whether a person was successful in life until after he or she dies. In Judaism, after someone dies, it is traditional to remember him or her on the yahrzeit (the anniversary of the death), not on the birthday. Why?
- In America we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday. But we remember Moses' yahrzeit (7 Adar) and Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai's yahrzeit (18 Iyar - lag b'omer). Why do we celebrate the end of life instead of its beginning?
- The Torah only once mentions a birthday. "On the third day - his birthday - Pharaoh made a banquet for all his officials" (Genesis 40:20). Only a pagan king, whose life was laid out entirely from birth, celebrates a birthday. Is it because at birth our life is mere potential, and only after we are gone does the world know if we lived a successful life? One anonymous wit put it very well - no doctor ever said "I was present at the birth of the child who will grow up to be William Shakespeare."
- This idea is perhaps best expressed in a wonderful passage from the Tanhuma. (Vayakhel 1). "'Better is the day of death than the day of birth' (Ecclesiastes 7:1). When a person is born no one knows if his deeds will be good or not, when he dies the world knows his deeds. R. Levi said, to what can this be compared? To two boats in the harbor, one leaving on a voyage and one coming home after a voyage. People shout for joy for the one coming in. Someone asks, surprised, you shout for this one and not for that one. They answered, we shout for this one because it went in peace and returned in peace. But for that one, we do not know what the future will bring. So too, when a baby is born, no one knows his future deeds. Only when he dies do we know his deeds." Many rabbis use this passage at a funeral for someone who has lived a good, successful life. Perhaps this teaches that each of us has until the day of death to make choices that will affect whether our lives will be successful.
Issue #2 - Love and Marriage
"Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother's death."
- According to an old popular song, "Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage." But is it true? We assume that people fall in love and get married. Yet here is a couple who first got married then fell in love. Did they do it backward?
- Jacob and Rachel, on the other hand, fell deeply in love, and then they were married. Who had the stronger marriage in the Bible, Isaac and Rebekah or Jacob and Rachel? (Hint - how did each couple react to their infertility? Isaac and Rebekah were infertile twenty years, yet they stood across from one another praying for each other. Jacob, on the other hand, became angry when Rachel cried out about her infertility. Second hint - Isaac and Rebekah were buried together. Jacob asked to be buried next to his first wife, Leah.)
- Is the popular image of falling in love and then marrying necessarily successful in our society? Why do so many marriages of people deeply in love go wrong? Notice that in our portion, Eliezer did not look for love. Rather he looked for values. Should we be looking for values rather than romance when seeking a life partner?
- We use the phrase "fall in love." This seems to indicate that we have no control over whom we love; that love is a force like gravity that we cannot control. Is that totally true? Can we choose whom we fall in love with? Could we build stronger marriages if people look for a certain kind of marriage partner, and only allow themselves to fall in love when they meet the right kind of person?
- Think about the Broadway play "Fiddler on the Roof." What kind of marriage scenarios are described in it?