TORAH SPARKS: Parashat Hayyei Sarah



Torah Sparks
Parashat Hayyei Sarah

November 5-11, 2017 | 22 Heshvan 5778

Annual | Genesis 23:1-25:18Triennial | Genesis 24:10-24:52

Haftarah | 1 Kings 1:1-31

Dvar Torah

Rabbi Shoshana Cohen, 
Conservative Yeshiva Faculty
Chapter 24 of this week’s parasha, Rivka and Yitzhak first meet:

Then Rivka and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rivka, and went his way.
62 Now Yitzhak had come from the approach of Beer-lahai-roi, and as he was dwelling in the Negev region. 63 And Yitzhak went out to stroll in the field toward evening, and he raised his eyes and saw and look, camels were coming. 64 And Rivka raised her eyes and saw Yitzhak, and she fell from the camel. 65 and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” and she took a veil and covered [her face]. 66 And the servant told Yitzhak all the things that he had done. 67 Add Yitzhak brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and he took Rivka, and she became his wife; and he loved her, and Yitzhak was comforted after his mother’s death.

This love that Yitzhak has for Rivka comes rather quickly, to say the least. They have barely seen each other! This stands in stark contrast to, for instance, the love of Yaakov for Rachel, which takes place after a long period of getting to know each other (Gen 24:18). Stranger still is Rivka’s response to seeing Yitzhak: she falls off her camel and covers her face.

The key to understanding this meeting may lie in the place from which Yitzhak is coming. In verse 62 we are told that Yitzhak is coming from Beer-lahai-roi, literally ‘The Well of the the Living One who Sees.’ This is the place where Hagar, several chapters earlier (16:13) was seen by God after having run away from her mistress Sarah. Hagar is overwhelmed by her experience of revelation, but unlike Moses and Avraham she is as excited at having seen God as she is that God saw her. In fact she gives God a new name, El Roi “the God who sees me” and the place becomes know as the place of the one who sees.

While the need to be seen by our loved ones and in times of suffering is central to the human experience, if we take a closer look at the Biblical narrative it becomes clear that this was a particular issue for Yitzhak.

The root “to see” (ראה) is found twice in the story of the Akeidah. At the beginning of the story Avraham lifts his eyes and sees the place from afar (22:4) and towards the end of the story he sees the ram (22:13). What Avraham never sees is his son, Yitzhak. We don’t know much about whether Sarah sees her son but the one time we find her seeing, she is looking at Ishmael laughing (or fooling around) (21:9).

So Yitzhak’s parents never really see him; his father remains focused on the commands of God and his mother seems preoccupied with Hagar and Ishmael and the trouble they are causing her. This type of childhood undoubtedly left Yitzhak wounded and in deep need. Rivka was the first one to lift her eyes and actually see him, and this is why he loved her so quickly; she immediately provided what had always been missing.

Why then did Rivka fall and cover herself? Perhaps she was overwhelmed by how much he needed her to see him. The intimacy and vulnerability were too much, so she had to turn away and cover her face.

The somewhat tragic end to the story is that while Yitzhak identifies Rivka as a partner who can provide him with what he needs most, he himself never seems to gain the ability to see her or anyone else. In fact he ends his life blind, physically and metaphorically.

The Torah’s message may be that while we often seek healing in our spouses for past familial wounds, that healing is often only partial. Our pain may be eased, but without deeper work, we may wind up doing the same to others as was done to us.

Table Talk

Vered Hollander-Goldfarb,
 Conservative Yeshiva FacultyThe Parasha opens with the death of Sarah which creates 2 main stories: Avraham’s purchase of land in Canaan, and Avraham’s servant finding a wife (Rivka) for Yitzhak.1) Sarah’s death, told at the opening of the Parasha, highlights Avraham’s nomadic existence in the land. He does not even have a place to bury his wife. He turns to the Hittites, who generously offer to allow him to bury among their dead (23:1-13). Why do you think that Avraham refuses this offer? Why do you think that the Hittites try to avoid agreeing to Avraham’s request to buy the land?2) Avraham sends his servant to bring back a wife for Yitzhak (24:2-14 and the rest of the chapter). All we know about the identity of the servant, who is trusted with the continuity of Avraham’s family and his life’s work, is that he is ‘the elder of the household.’ What kind of person do you think that Avraham chose? Why do you think that his name is not given?

3) After Yitzhak marries Rivka, Avraham takes another wife and has several children (25:1-6), one of whom is Midian. Who (in the book of Shemot, 2:16-21) comes from the people of Midian? What does it tell you about Moshe’s family?

4) Avraham settles the division of his possessions during his lifetime (25:5-6.) What did Yitzhak receive and what was given to the children of the concubines? How do you understand the share of the concubines’ children in light of what v.5 claims that Yitzhak received? (It is not clear if these were only Avraham’s biological children.)

5) The commentators tried to understand what Yitzhak received, considering the apparent contradiction between 25:5 and 25:6. Rashi suggests: “…the Holy One, blessed be He, had said to Avraham (Gen 12:2) ‘and you shall be a blessing,’ – the blessings are delivered into your hand to bless whomever you wish. And Avraham gave them to Yitzhak.” According to this reading, what did Avraham consider ‘all he has’, that he chose to give to Yitzhak? Do we have situations today where one might inherit non material things? How do we value them?

Dvar Haftarah

Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein,
 Conservative Yeshiva FacultyThose familiar with King David’s life know that his later years were quite difficult. He was physically depleted and had lost his edge as a leader. Our Haftarah, the first chapter of the Book of Kings, makes this plain from the very first line: “King David was now old (zaken), advanced in years; and though they covered him with bedclothes he never felt warm.” According to the simple meaning of the text, David wore his old age heavily. His being “old” indicates only a decrease in vitality, without a concomitant increase in dignity and status.The midrash, however, paints a different picture. Avraham was the first person in the Tanakh to be described as old (zaken): “Avraham was now old, advance in years, and the Lord had blessed Avraham in all things.” (Genesis 24:1) And while Avraham understood that his end was approaching and that he needed to prepare, the storyline there is anything but pejorative. Perhaps drawing from this more positive picture, the midrash sees the appellation “elder” or “zaken” as a badge of honor granted to heroes for their noble acts:
Come and see! From Adam all the way through to Avraham were twenty generations and nowhere is old age (zikna) mentioned until the time of Avraham. Children were born, as were grandchildren and there was no recognizable difference between children and their parents…until Avraham came along and God gave him this glorious adornment, for it is a glory for a person to become elderly (mazkin). And for what did this honor come to Avraham? For doing acts of tzedakah (righteousness), as it says: ‘Gray hair is a crown of glory’ (Proverbs 16:31); And how does one attain it? ‘It is attained by the way of righteousness (tzedakah)’ (Ibid). Who was the first to find it? Avraham, as it is written about him: ‘For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right.’ (Genesis 18:19) God said to him [on account of this], surely you are worthy of being an ‘elder’. That is why it says: ‘Avraham was now an elder (old)’. David also acquired this honor, as it is written: ‘King David was now an ‘elder’ (old). Why [did he merit this]? Because he acted in the ways of Avraham, as it is written: ‘David reigned over all Israel, and David executed justice and righteousness (tzedakah) among all his people.’ (2 Samuel 8:15)” (adapted from Tanhuma Buber Hayyei Sarah 4, p. 118)

Perhaps the midrash’s clear deviation from the plain sense of the text in our Haftarah should serve as a reminder for US that we are the arbiters of our fate and have the ability to shape who we are and how we will be viewed. The sages want us to know that how others see our old age will be determined by how we lead our lives. Leading a noble life will make old age a badge of honor to be worn with pride.

We would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary:Underwriters: Rabbi Michael and Erica Schwab

SponsorsRabbi Ron Androphy, Rabbi Jeffrey & Tami Arnowitz, Rabbi Martin Flax, Rabbi Barry Dov Katz, Rabbi Ben Kramer, Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, Rabbi Robert Pilavin, Rabbi Micah Peltz, Rabbi David Rosen

Friends: Aaron Dworin, Rabbi Robert Eisen, Rabbi Jay Goldstein, Rabbi Rafi Kanter, Rabbi Dennis Linson, Rabbi Mark Mallach, Rabbi Marvin Richardson z”l, Rabbi Joel Roth, Rabbi Ronald Roth, Rabbi Neil Sandler, Rabbi David C. Seed, Mel F. Seidenberg in honor of his grandchildren and two great grandsons, Rabbi Ari Sunshine

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