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Torah Sparks

November 3, 2007 – 22 Heshvan 5768

Annual: Genesis 23:1 -- 25:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 127; Hertz p. 80)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 23:1 -- 24:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 127; Hertz p. 80)
Haftarah: I Kings 1:1 – 31 (Etz Hayim, p. 143; Hertz p. 90)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Sarah dies at the age of 127. Abraham approaches the Hittites about acquiring a burial place and then bargains with Ephron and buys the cave of Machpelah and the field surrounding it from him. Abraham sends his senior servant (unnamed here but known as Eliezer based on a verse in Lekh Lekha) to his family in Aram-naharaim to find an appropriate bride for Isaac. Eliezer arrives at his destination and asks God for a sign – the woman who will become Isaac’s wife would be kind and generous and would draw water for Eliezer and his camels. Almost immediately Rebecca arrives at the well and passes his test. Eliezer learns that she is the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor and realizes that God has guided him to the right woman. Eliezer is invited to Rebecca’s home, where he explains the purpose of his journey to her brother Laban and father Bethuel. They agree to allow Rebecca to go with Eliezer. Rebecca also agrees and accompanies Eliezer to Canaan, where she becomes Isaac’s wife. Abraham marries Keturah and fathers six more sons, although Isaac is his sole heir. Abraham dies at 175 and is buried by Isaac and Ishmael alongside Sarah in the cave of Machpelah. The parashah concludes with the genealogy of Ishmael’s descendents.

1. Count Your Blessings

Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. (Beresheit 24:1)

  1. With wealth and possessions and honor, long life and children and this is man’s every desire... He lacked nothing except to see his son have children who would inherit his status and honor. (Ramban [Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, 1194-1270, Spain])
  2. Rabbi Meir said “in all things [bakol]” means he had no daughter. Rabbi Judah said that he had a daughter. Others say he had a daughter and her name was Bakol. Rabbi Elazar HaModa’i said that Abraham our father was an astrologer and therefore all the kings of the west and the east came to his door to ask his advice. Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai said, a jewel hung from Abraham’s neck and any sick person who saw it was immediately healed. (Talmud Baba Batra 16b)
  3. God blessed Abraham with the quality of “all,” of being content with whatever he had and never feeling that he was lacking anything. (Ohr La-Yesharim [I am unable to identify which of several seforim with this title this comes from])
  4. Rabbi Levi said: It means with three things – He [God] made him [Abraham] master of his evil inclination, Ishmael repented, and his storehouse was never diminished in any way. (Beresheit Rabbah 47:7)
  5. He lacked nothing and he needed nothing in this world except to marry his son Isaac to a suitable wife. (Radak [Rabbi David Kimchi, 1160-1235, France])

Sparks for Discussion

Which explanation of Abraham’s blessings do you prefer? How do you define being blessed with everything? What are you doing to express your gratitude for the blessings you have been given?

2. Intermarriage and the Jewish Future

And I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell, but will go to the land of my birth and get a wife for my son Isaac. (Beresheit 24:3-4)

  1. Why did Abraham send Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac among his own family rather than among the Canaanites, even though both were idolaters? The reason is that the Canaanites, in addition to idolatry, were also corrupt morally and sexually, as we see in the verse You shall not copy the practices... of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you (Vayikra 18:3). Now, even though Abraham’s family were idolaters, they were moral people, and that was why he chose them for his son. (Derashot haRan [Rabbenu Nissim ben Reuven Gerondi, d. 1380, Spain])
  2. The influence of a Canaanite wife of my son would be all the greater as I dwell among the Canaanites. Not only the wife but her whole family and circle of friends and relatives would have to be contended against. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)
  3. Lest they should say about me, I acquired the land by inheritance and gift; I want it to be clear that it was given to me by God by decree. (Hizkuni [Rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoah, mid-13th century, France])
  4. And why didn’t Abraham order Isaac not to marry a Canaanite woman? From here we have proof for what is written in the Shulhan Arukh [in the laws of Honoring Father and Mother], that a son is not obligated to obey his father if he tries to prevent him from marrying a woman whom he desires. (Meshekh Hokhma, Rabbi Meir Simha Hakohen of Dvinsk, 1843-1926)

Sparks for Discussion

As is clear from our parashah, concerns about intermarriage and its effect on the future of the Jewish people are not a new phenomenon. The various commentaries see marrying out as a real threat to Jewish survival. Are these concerns still valid today? Even when we no longer believe that non-Jews are morally inferior, should we still be concerned about assimilation into the majority culture? What can we do to encourage our children, grandchildren, and other Jews to marry Jews? Once an intermarriage has occurred, what can we do to encourage the intermarried Jew to remain connected to the Jewish community and to make Jewish choices for his or her family? What can our synagogues and other Conservative institutions do to help?

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