Weekly D'rash and Parsha Chayei Sarah
This Week our D'rash and Scriptures on Shabbat for Chayei Sarah come from Rabbi Paul L. Saal of Shuvah Yisrael:
TORAH ~ Genesis 23:1-25:18
HAFTARAH ~ 1 Kings 1:1-31 BRIT CHADASHA ~ Hebrews 11:1-11
It is noteworthy that this week’s portion, entitled Chayei Sarah, which literally means the life of Sarah, chronicles the matriarch’s death and burial, and her husband’s contemplative mourning. It begins, though, with a one-sentence retrospective of her life. “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years: the years of Sarah’s life” (Gen 23:1). Rashi explains that the repetition of years divides Sarah’s life into three periods, each with its own uniqueness. At one hundred she was as sinless as a twenty-year-old, for until the age of twenty, a person does not suffer heavenly punishment; and at twenty she still had the wholesome beauty of a seven-year-old, who does not use cosmetics and whose beauty is natural. Rashi’s creative exegesis points out that each stage of Sarah’s life was indelibly tied to the preceding period.
It should also be noted, though, that the conclusion of Sarah’s life would be equally tied to the life of Rebecca, who would succeed her as the matriarch of Abraham’s household and the wife of her only son Isaac. It has been said that when a caterpillar faces the end of life, the Master calls a butterfly. So it is with righteous persons and their progeny. Not one of us can view the full value of our lives, but time will measure our lives as they continue in the lives of those we touch.
This time of year, one of my favorite movies to watch is Frank Capra’s delightful fantasy It’s a Wonderful Life. The protagonist of the movie, George Bailey, is so weighed down by the trials of life that he wishes he were never born. His wish is mysteriously granted by a challenged junior angel named Clarence, who allows George to see how many lives would have been severely impoverished had he never existed. What George truly sees is the tremendous value of his life, a life well lived, and how it continues in perpetuity in the lives he loves. George mostly is permitted to see the small miracles that happen when souls touch in the passage of life. So did the souls of Rebecca and Isaac touch each other, and by no coincidence continue the life of Sarah.
Going out toward evening to stroll in the field, Isaac looked up and saw camels coming! And Rebecca looked up seeing Isaac, she got off the camel and said to the slave: “Who is the man striding in the field coming to meet us?” “He is my master,” said the slave. Taking a veil, she covered herself. The slave then told Isaac all that he had done. And Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah; he took Rebecca, and she became his wife and he loved her. Thus did Isaac take comfort after (the death) of his mother. (Gen 24:63–67) Rebecca understood that she was traveling to Canaan with Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, for the very purpose of becoming Isaac’s wife. It is not certain whether she knew that she would be replacing the presence of Sarah, but this was the clear intention of providence. Earlier in the story Abraham, feeling old and tired and bereft after losing his beloved wife, sends Eliezer to find a suitable wife for Isaac. But he does not provide any of the expected prerequisites for a suitable mate. He does not tell Eliezer that the wife should come from wealth or a famous family. He does not even describe the looks or personality that would be desirable.
Without any clear direction other than she should not come from the Canaanites, Eliezer sets out on his journey. Eliezer prays to the God of Abraham and describes a supposed drama that may take place at a well. He tells God that if these events transpire then he will recognize it as a sign from above. The right woman for Isaac will be the one that at Eliezer’s request brings water not only to him, but also to his camels. Of course, Rebecca fulfills the conditions of the prayer and the story of Rebecca and Isaac’s life together begins to unfold. But how did Eliezer know that this would be the right sign from God? I imagine because Rebecca behaves precisely how Sarah might have. Like Sarah, Rebecca not only possesses innocent beauty, but she is filled with goodness and kindness. Rebecca is the God-ordained choice to be not only Isaac’s wife, but also Sarah’s successor. Perhaps, this is the reason at the end of Vayera we are told of the birth of Rebecca. Sarah cannot pass until God provides the one who will truly live on in her spirit.
Chayei Sarah is truly a celebration of a life well-lived, not the chronicle of its death. Each of our lives has the potential to change the world about us positively. If we seize the opportunity, our lives continue in those about us, infusing the world with beauty and goodness, and bearing the image of our creator in all his creation. Like Eliezer, we should confess that there are no coincidences in the ordinary details of day-to-day life, but that all about us are the small miracles created by souls touching each other, and the ongoing miracles of lives lived for God. -Scripture quotations are the author’s translation TORAH READING: GENESIS 23:1 – 25:18 23:1 Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, 4 "I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight." 5 The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, 6 "Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead." 7 So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. 8 And he spoke with them, saying, "If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, 9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site." 10 Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, 11 "No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead." 12 And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. 13 He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, "If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there." 14 Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, 15 "My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead." 16 Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard. 17 So Ephron's field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over 18 to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth. 24:1 Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the L-RD had blessed Abraham in every way. 2 Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, "Please place your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will make you swear by the L-RD, the G-d of heaven and the G-d of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, 4 but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac." 5 The servant said to him, "Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?" 6 Then Abraham said to him, "Beware that you do not take my son back there! 7 "The L-RD, the G-d of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, 'To your descendants I will give this land,' He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. 8 "But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there." 9 So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter. 10 Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master's in his hand; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor. 11 He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water. 12 He said, "O L-RD, the G-d of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham. 13 "Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; 14 now may it be that the girl to whom I say, 'Please let down your jar so that I may drink,' and who answers, 'Drink, and I will water your camels also '-- may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to my master." 15 Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder. 16 The girl was very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her; and she went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her, and said, "Please let me drink a little water from your jar." 18 She said, "Drink, my lord"; and she quickly lowered her jar to her hand, and gave him a drink. 19 Now when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, "I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking." 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. 21 Meanwhile, the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the L-RD had made his journey successful or not. 22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels in gold, 23 and said, "Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father's house?" 24 She said to him, "I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor." 25 Again she said to him, "We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in." 26 Then the man bowed low and worshiped the L-RD. 27 He said, "Blessed be the L-RD, the G-d of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the L-RD has guided me in the way to the house of my master's brothers." 28 Then the girl ran and told her mother's household about these things. 29 Now Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban; and Laban ran outside to the man at the spring. 30 When he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister's wrists, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, "This is what the man said to me," he went to the man; and behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. 31 And he said, "Come in, blessed of the L-RD! Why do you stand outside since I have prepared the house, and a place for the camels?" 32 So the man entered the house. Then Laban unloaded the camels, and he gave straw and feed to the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. 33 But when food was set before him to eat, he said, "I will not eat until I have told my business." And he said, "Speak on." 34 So he said, "I am Abraham's servant. 35 "The L-RD has greatly blessed my master, so that he has become rich; and He has given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and servants and maids, and camels and donkeys. 36 "Now Sarah my master's wife bore a son to my master in her old age, and he has given him all that he has. 37 "My master made me swear, saying, 'You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; 38 but you shall go to my father's house and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son.' 39 "I said to my master, 'Suppose the woman does not follow me.' 40 "He said to me, 'The L-RD, before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you to make your journey successful, and you will take a wife for my son from my relatives and from my father's house; 41 then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my relatives; and if they do not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.' 42 "So I came today to the spring, and said, 'O L-RD, the G-d of my master Abraham, if now You will make my journey on which I go successful; 43 behold, I am standing by the spring, and may it be that the maiden who comes out to draw, and to whom I say, "Please let me drink a little water from your jar"; 44 and she will say to me, "You drink, and I will draw for your camels also"; let her be the woman whom the L-RD has appointed for my master's son.' 45 "Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder, and went down to the spring and drew, and I said to her, 'Please let me drink.' 46 "She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder, and said, 'Drink, and I will water your camels also'; so I drank, and she watered the camels also. 47 "Then I asked her, and said, 'Whose daughter are you?' And she said, 'The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him'; and I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her wrists. 48 "And I bowed low and worshiped the L-RD, and blessed the L-RD, the G-d of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. 49 "So now if you are going to deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, let me know, that I may turn to the right hand or the left." 50 Then Laban and Bethuel replied, "The matter comes from the L-RD; so we cannot speak to you bad or good. 51 "Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the L-RD has spoken." 52 When Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the L-RD. 53 The servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother. 54 Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night. When they arose in the morning, he said, "Send me away to my master." 55 But her brother and her mother said, "Let the girl stay with us a few days, say ten; afterward she may go." 56 He said to them, "Do not delay me, since the L-RD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master." 57 And they said, "We will call the girl and consult her wishes." 58 Then they called Rebekah and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" And she said, "I will go." 59 Thus they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham's servant and his men. 60 They blessed Rebekah and said to her, "May you, our sister, Become thousands of ten thousands, And may your descendants possess The gate of those who hate them." 61 Then Rebekah arose with her maids, and they mounted the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed. 62 Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev. 63 Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming. 64 Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel. 65 She said to the servant, "Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?" And the servant said, "He is my master." Then she took her veil and covered herself. 66 The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother's death. 25:1 Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah. 3 Jokshan became the father of Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim and Letushim and Leummim. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah and Epher and Hanoch and Abida and Eldaah. All these were the sons of Keturah. 5 Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; 6 but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east. 7 These are all the years of Abraham's life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. 9 Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, 10 the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife. 11 It came about after the death of Abraham, that G-d blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi. 12 Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's maid, bore to Abraham; 13 and these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, and Kedar and Adbeel and Mibsam 14 and Mishma and Dumah and Massa, 15 Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps; twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 These are the years of the life of Ishmael, one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people. 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur which is east of Egypt as one goes toward Assyria; he settled in defiance of all his relatives. HAFTARAH READING: 1 KINGS 1:1-31 1:1 Now King David was old, advanced in age; and they covered him with clothes, but he could not keep warm. 2 So his servants said to him, "Let them seek a young virgin for my lord the king, and let her attend the king and become his nurse; and let her lie in your bosom, that my lord the king may keep warm." 3 So they searched for a beautiful girl throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4 The girl was very beautiful; and she became the king's nurse and served him, but the king did not cohabit with her. 5 Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, "I will be king." So he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen with fifty men to run before him. 6 His father had never crossed him at any time by asking, "Why have you done so?" And he was also a very handsome man, and he was born after Absalom. 7 He had conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest; and following Adonijah they helped him. 8 But Zadok the priest, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei, Rei, and the mighty men who belonged to David, were not with Adonijah. 9 Adonijah sacrificed sheep and oxen and fatlings by the stone of Zoheleth, which is beside En-rogel; and he invited all his brothers, the king's sons, and all the men of Judah, the king's servants. 10 But he did not invite Nathan the prophet, Benaiah, the mighty men, and Solomon his brother. 11 Then Nathan spoke to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, saying, "Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king, and David our lord does not know it? 12 "So now come, please let me give you counsel and save your life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 "Go at once to King David and say to him, 'Have you not, my lord, O king, sworn to your maidservant, saying, "Surely Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne "? Why then has Adonijah become king?' 14 "Behold, while you are still there speaking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words." 15 So Bathsheba went in to the king in the bedroom. Now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was ministering to the king. 16 Then Bathsheba bowed and prostrated herself before the king. And the king said, "What do you wish?" 17 She said to him, "My lord, you swore to your maidservant by the L-RD your G-d, saying, 'Surely your son Solomon shall be king after me and he shall sit on my throne.' 18 "Now, behold, Adonijah is king; and now, my lord the king, you do not know it. 19 "He has sacrificed oxen and fatlings and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king and Abiathar the priest and Joab the commander of the army, but he has not invited Solomon your servant. 20 "As for you now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. 21 "Otherwise it will come about, as soon as my lord the king sleeps with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be considered offenders." 22 Behold, while she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet came in. 23 They told the king, saying, "Here is Nathan the prophet." And when he came in before the king, he prostrated himself before the king with his face to the ground. 24 Then Nathan said, "My lord the king, have you said, 'Adonijah shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne '? 25 "For he has gone down today and has sacrificed oxen and fatlings and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king's sons and the commanders of the army and Abiathar the priest, and behold, they are eating and drinking before him; and they say, 'Long live King Adonijah!' 26 "But me, even me your servant, and Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and your servant Solomon, he has not invited. 27 "Has this thing been done by my lord the king, and you have not shown to your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?" 28 Then King David said, "Call Bathsheba to me." And she came into the king's presence and stood before the king. 29 The king vowed and said, "As the L-RD lives, who has redeemed my life from all distress, 30 surely as I vowed to you by the L-RD the G-d of Israel, saying, 'Your son Solomon shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place'; I will indeed do so this day." 31 Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground, and prostrated herself before the king and said, "May my lord King David live forever." B’RIT CHADASHAH READING: HEBREWS 11:1-11 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old gained approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of G-d, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to G-d a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, G-d testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE G-D TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to G-d. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to G-d must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by G-d about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. 8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is G-d. 11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.