It’s a relief to read this portion. No threat of human sacrifice, no sister-wife lies, no banishment into the wilderness, no Sodom and Gomorrah, no incest. Yes, Sarah dies, but she’s 127, and the portion is called “Hayyei Sarah,” the life of Sarah. There is a dark side in that there’s a tradition that she died of shock surrounding the news that Abraham had/was going to sacrifice their son. That would put Isaac at 37 at the akedah. Anyhow, Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah as a burial plot. There seems to be an attempt at opening a typical Middle Eastern bargaining parlay, but Abraham doesn’t rise to it, instead paying an outrageous sum. My guess is that he wasn’t in a mood to bargain while grieving for Sarah and he could afford it.
Now Abraham realizes that Isaac is still unmarried. He makes his trusted major domo (assumed to be Eliezer) swear that Isaac will not marry a Canaanite woman, but rather a woman of Abraham’s land and family, and sends him off to the old country (Aram-naharaim) to find a suitable bride and bring her back. Eliezer, desiring a little more guidance for his matchmaking, asks for help from the Lord: The destined maiden will be kind enough to offer to give water not only to him, but also to his camels, which requires a whole lot more effort. Rebecca duly appears and not only fulfills the job description (as well as being good-looking), but hurries to do so (shades of Abraham’s hospitality to the three angels). And she is the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor, thus family, but not incestuously close. Brother Laban is impressed by the rich gifts Eliezer has brought for Rebecca (red flag). She not only consents to the match but is in a hurry to leave her home (another red flag?). She and Eliezer return. Isaac marries Rebecca, grows to love her, and is finally comforted after his mother’s death.
I usually find the tone of this story to be like those tales where a boy or girl must carry out some difficult task to prove s/he is the right bride/groom. Something like choosing the right casket, or giving a kiss to the right person at the right time in the right place, or choosing the right sister. But I was taken by the d’var Torah written by Britain’s Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks about this portion, “The Kindness of Strangers.” He focuses on the kindness shown by Rebecca. He tells this story written by Yale law professor Stephen Carter, about his moving into a white neighborhood as a child (Stephen Carter, Civility, New York: Basic Books, 1999, 61-75):
Sitting with his two brothers and two sisters on the front step of the house, he waited to see how they would be greeted. They were not. Passers-by turned to look at them but no one gave them a smile or even a glance of recognition. All the fearful stories he had heard about how whites treated blacks seemed to be coming true. Years later, writing about those first days in their new home, he says, “I knew we were not welcome here. I knew we would not be liked here. I knew we would have no friends here. I knew we should not have moved here”
As he was thinking those thoughts, a white woman coming home from work passed by on the other side of the road. She turned to the children and with a broad smile said, “Welcome!” Disappearing into the house, she emerged minutes later with a tray laden with drinks and cream-cheese and jelly sandwiches which she brought over to the children, making them feel at home. That moment – the young man later wrote – changed his life. It gave him a sense of belonging where there was none before. It made him realise…that a black family could feel at home in a white area and that there could be relationships that were colour-blind.“ …
He adds that it was no coincidence that she was a religious Jew. “In the Jewish tradition,” he notes, such civility is called “hessed – the doing of acts of kindness – which is in turn derived from the understanding that human beings are made in the image of God.” Civility, he adds, “itself may be seen as part of hessed: it does indeed require kindnesses toward our fellow citizens, including the ones who are strangers, and even when it is hard.” To this day, he adds, “I can close my eyes and feel on my tongue the smooth, slick sweetness of the cream cheese and jelly sandwiches that I gobbled on that summer afternoon when I discovered how a single act of genuine and unassuming civility can change a life forever.” (By the way, I often had a cream cheese and jelly sandwich when I was little and having lunch with my father. I didn’t know of anyone else who ate them. IGP)
The portion concludes by tying up the stories of Abraham and Ishmael. Abraham marries Keturah, who may or may not be Hagar returned, they have six sons; they get gifts while Abraham is alive, not the inheritance. Abraham dies peacefully at 175 and is buried by Isaac and Ishmael in the Cave of Machpelah, near Sarah. Ishmael lives to be 137, leaving twelve sons, all of whom become local chieftains.
Next week: More Biblical family dysfunction.
Category: On 1 Foot
Parshas Chayai Sarah
by I. Galena Posted: 07-07-2006(Viewed 963 times)
SARAH: (frantic) HE SAID HE WAS GONNA DO WHAT??!!!
Graveyard Humor (selections)
Be careful what you inscribe on a tombstone:
Sir John Strange
Here lies an honest lawyer,
And that is Strange.
Sacred to the memory of
my husband John Barnes
who died January 3, 1803
His comely young widow, aged 23, has
many qualifications of a good wife, and
yearns to be comforted.
From Burlington Vt.
She lived with her husband fifty years
And died in the confident hope of a better life.
Here lies my wife:
Here let her lie!
Now she’s at rest
And so am I.
Here Lies Mary Smith
Silent At Last
Shidduch (match) date breakdown from a man’s perspective
by HESHY FRIED on JULY 4, 2008
Date Jitters (Words of advice from a guy who’s been through it. Greatly abridged.)
By Martin Bodeck
Passenger Seat Arrangement: You don’t want your date to wind up too far behind you in the car so that you get whiplash from simple conversation. You also don’t want to put her too far forward so that you’re looking at her back. So you multiply her height by the seat width, divide by leg room, add her height, and subtract car size to figure out just where you should position her seat. It’s quite simple actually.
Conversation: What DO you talk about? Nothing. You talk about the beauty of trapezoids and the marvelous talents of giraffes. Around the third or fourth date, you usually think to yourself, “Gee, this trapezoid and giraffe stuff is fascinating, I like her.” This is the way we think. Girls get married because everything is so right; guys get married because nothing is so wrong.
The Stalking Point: There is a point at which, when dropping off your date, you can no longer accompany her. This is the Stalking Point. Do not cross it. The Stalking Point for girls who live in houses with no steps to the entrance is five to ten feet from the entrance. If the girl requires steps to enter her house, you may not advance onto the steps. Stay away from the steps. I’ve warned you.
Sefer Torah Protocol (STP): When your lady enters her house, you must stand patiently at the Stalking Point until she enters and closes the door behind her. In essence, she becomes like a Sefer Torah. You cannot turn your back until the “Aron” (Ark) is closed and the “Sefer” disappears…
Asking for Directions – This is the most humiliating and emasculating experience of a man’s life. We would rather do barefoot cartwheels across fields of broken glass and razors. Besides, in Manhattan you technically can’t get lost, because no matter which direction you drive, you’ll always hit water. Once there, you can check the water current, wind direction, and position of the moon and stars to determine that your destination must be…THAT way!
Fortune Cookies – They never say what you WANT them to say, do they? …When you’re sitting across from a girl you’re interested in, you’re hoping (hers) will say, “Prince Charming will meet you tonight.” Instead, it’ll say, “Run, as fast as you can, get out, get out NOW!”
Quotes about Kindness