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Torah Sparks

Parashat Hayyei Sarah
November 14, 2009 – 28 Heshvan 5770

Annual (Gen. 23:1-25:18): (Etz Hayim, p. 127; Hertz p. 80)
Triennial (Gen. 24:53-25:18): (Etz Hayim, p. 137; Hertz p. 86)
Haftarah: (Etz Hayim, p. 143; Hertz p. 90)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce T. Newmark
Teaneck, NJ

Torah Portion Summary

Sarah dies at 127, and Abraham approaches the Hittites about acquiring a burial place. He bargains with Ephron and buys the cave of Machpelah and the surrounding field 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, offering to draw water for Eliezer and his camels. Almost immediately Rebecca arrives at the well and passes Eliezer’s 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 her 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 the age of 175 Isaac and Ishmael bury him alongside Sarah in the cave of Machpelah. The parashah concludes with the genealogy of Ishmael’s descendents.

1. Do You Love Me?

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. (Genesis 24:67)

  1. He brought her into the tent and behold she was Sarah his mother; that is to say, she became like Sarah his mother. For as long as Sarah lived there was a light burning from one Shabbat eve to the next, and there was blessing in the dough, and a cloud was hanging over the tent; and when she died, these ceased, but when Rivkah entered they returned. (Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki), 1040-1105, France)
  2. He discovered her many virtuous qualities including her modesty, qualities he had admired in his mother, Sarah. Seeing that most husbands love their wives, the statement, “Isaac loved her,” here must have an additional significance. The Torah writes this to tell us that Yitzhak loved the outstanding qualities of Rivkah. This is why the statement is followed by the line “found comfort after his mother’s death,” after having mourned his mother for a suitable period. He was still mourning his mother after three years had elapsed since her death. Now that he recognized his mother’s qualities personified in his wife he was able to console himself over his mother’s death. (Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi), 1160-1235, France)
  3. The intent of the verse is to tell of the honor that Isaac bestowed upon his mother, for from the time that Sarah died they did not take down her tent because they said, “Let not another woman come into the tend of the honorable mistress.” But when he saw Rebekah he brought her into that tent in her honor and there he took her as his wife. This is the meaning of the words “Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort,” indicating that he was deeply grieved for his mother, finding no comforter until he was comforted by his wife through his love for her. Otherwise, what reason is there for Scripture to mention a man’s love for his wife? (Ramban (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman), 1194-1270, Spain)
  4. “The sun rises and the sun sets” (Kohelet 1:5). Rabbi Abba said: Do we then not know that the sun rises and the sun goes down? But the meaning is that before the Holy Blessed One causes the sun of one righteous person to set, He causes the sun of another righteous person to rise... Before the Holy Blessed One allowed Sarah’s sun to set, He caused that of Rebekah to rise. Thus we first read, “Milcah too has borne children... Bethuel the father of Rebekah” (22:20,23) and after that, “Sarah’s lifetime...” (23:1) (B’reishit Rabbah 58:2)

Sparks for Discussion

Why does the Torah tell us that Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah consoled him for the loss of his mother? Our commentators say that it was because Rebekah was so much like Sarah, sharing the same admirable qualities. Bereisheit Rabbah even suggests that Rebekah, as it were, took Sarah’s place in the world. Could it be that Rebekah really was like Sarah? Did Isaac, still mourning his mother, choose to impose Sarah’s image on his wife? Did Isaac really love Rebekah or did he love his image of the ideal mother/wife and apply it to Rebekah? In next week’s parasha, Toldot, we learn that Isaac and Rebekah had a troubled marriage. Do you think some of that might be due to Isaac’s inability to see Rebekah as she was?

2. Saying Goodbye

His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre. (Genesis 25:9)

  1. Seeing they were more honored than his other sons and had been more beloved by him. This is why they took upon themselves the procedures connected with their father’s burial even though the sons of Keturah also were in this region. Alternatively, Avraham already had sent those sons away during his lifetime so that only Yitzhak and Ishmael remained in the region. (Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi), 1160-1235, France)
  2. From here [Isaac, the younger brother, is mentioned before Ishmael] we learn that Ishmael repented and permitted Isaac to precede him (at the funeral); and this is the good old age that is stated regarding Abraham. (Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki), 1040-1105, France)
  3. At the end of three years [after the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael], Abraham went to see his son Ishmael in the wilderness of Paran, after first swearing to Sarah that he would not dismount from his camel at the place where Ishmael was living. Abraham reached there at midday, found Ishmael’s wife, and asked her, “Where is Ishmael?” She replied, “He and his mother went to bring some fruits and brooms from the wilderness.” Abraham said, “Give me a little water and a little bread, for I am weary from the journey through the wilderness.” She replied, “No bread, no water.” Abraham said, “When your husband Ishmael returns, tell him, ‘An old man from the land of Canaan came to see you and said to tell you, “The household of this house is not in good repair.” When Ishmael returned, his wife gave him the message, whereupon he divorced her. Then his mother sent for a woman from her father’s house in the land of Egypt. Her name was Fatima, and Ishmael took her as his wife.

    At the end of another three years, Abraham went again to see his son Ishmael, after once more swearing to Sarah that he would not dismount from the camel at the place where Ishmael lived. He reached there at midday, found Ishmael’s wife, and asked her, “Where is Ishmael?” She replied, “He and his mother have gone to graze the camels in the wilderness.” He said, “Give me a little bread and a little water, for I am weary from the journey through the wilderness.” She brought these out and gave them to him. Then Abraham entreated the Holy One in his son’s behalf, and Ishmael’s house was filled with all manner of good things. When Ishmael came back, his wife told him what had happened. Then Ishmael realized that his father still loved him. (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 30)
  4. It is not uncommon that an immediate relative had a tense, angry, and sometimes unloving relationship with the deceased. Without denying the validity of the person’s feelings – if you feel they are justified – it is usually wise to encourage the person to observe some form of mourning. Rabbi Harold Kushner recalls an instance when a woman had been so wounded by her father, who had deserted the family when she was a child, that she did not even wish to attend his funeral, let alone sit shiva or recite kaddish. Yet Rabbi Kushner urged her to do so: “If you attend your father’s funeral and regret doing so, you will feel bad about it for that day. If you don’t attend his funeral and regret not having gone, you might well regret it for your whole life.” Regarding saying kaddish, Kushner urged her to say it, if not on a regular basis, then at least occasionally: “If you can’t bring yourself to say kaddish for your father because of the way he was and because of how he treated you, then say it for the father you never had but wish you did.” (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself, p. 125)

Sparks for Discussion

Does it surprise you that Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury their father? Had they been in contact during the years between Ishmael’s banishment and Abraham’s death? How and why? Rashi says that Ishmael repented – for what? What do you make of the story from Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer? Isaac and Ishmael both had good reason to resent how Abraham had treated them, perhaps even to hate him. Were they truly mourning or simply carrying out an unpleasant duty? What do you suppose the two of them talked about after the burial?

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