Hayyei Sarah (Genesis 23.1-25.18)

My mother would have turned 101 tomorrow.  It also struck me yesterday that today is the 50th anniversary of my Bat Mitzvah.  (Actually, we were still pronouncing it “Bas Mitzvah”).  Friday night, November 25, 1966, at Congregation Beth El in West Philly.  The Torah portion was Vayishlach, not that it mattered much since we didn’t read Torah Friday nights.  I have fond memories of my Bas Mitzvah, especially that, while the Oneg Shabbat (celebratory spread after services) was partly catered, about half of the food came from women of the synagogue.

Speaking of food, I hope you had a pleasant Thanksgiving yesterday.  I did, partly because my husband made dinner (from homemade bread to banana-pineapple cake), and it was wonderful.  And, unexpectedly, our son was in from St. Louis, joining his parents, sister, aunts, and uncle.  Even though we are a mixed family (Democratic and Republican), we had a good time, since, after all, we are family.

And that actually leads into this week’s Torah portion. 

“Hayyei Sarah” means “the life of Sarah,” that is, the totality of her life.  She dies at 127.  Tradition has it that her death occurs right after the Akedah, from shock, either on learning that Abraham would even consider sacrificing Isaac, hearing that he had (a message from Satan), or joy that he hadn’t.  Motherhood can be very stressful, even when your son is 37 (127 at her death -90 at his birth=37).  Anyhow, Abraham mourns and then purchases the Cave of Machpelah as a burial place, as well as the surrounding field.  Though the cited price is outrageous, Abraham simply pays it.  There are times to bargain, and this isn’t one of them.

Now Abraham notices that he is getting very old (137) and Isaac is still unmarried.  He sends his most trusted servant (assumed to be Eliezer) to his native land to get a wife for Isaac.  He makes Eliezer swear that the woman will not be a Canaanite and that she must be willing to come back with Eliezer to Isaac.  If she refuses to do so, Eliezer is free of his oath.  That’s not a lot to go on in terms of effective matchmaking.

Eliezer decides that the chief attribute of Isaac’s wife should be kindness and prays that the Lord help him identify her (24:13-14): “I am standing here by the well (there’s always a well. IGP) and the daughters of the townsmen are coming out to draw water. If I say to a girl, ‘Tip over your jug and let me have a drink,’ and she replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ she will be the one whom You have designated for Your servant Isaac. [If there is such a girl,] I will know that You have granted a favor for my master.”  Sure enough, Rebecca meets the behavioral requirements, hurrying to do her good deeds (cf. Abraham’s rushing to take care of the three angels).  She is also the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor.  And, she is beautiful.  Finally, she wants to leave immediately with Eliezer, which is both good and a red flag.  Why is she so eager to leave home? In an additional bit of foreshadowing, Rebecca’s brother Laban is suitably hospitable to Eliezer, but his actions seem motivated more by the gold ring and bracelets now adorning Rebecca than from any internal generosity of spirit.

Rebecca returns with Eliezer and marries Isaac.  He loves her, but we are never told she loves him.

The portion ends by completing the stories of Abraham and Ishmael.  Abraham has six sons by Keturah (possibly Hagar returned) who get gifts during his lifetime in lieu of an inheritance.  He dies at 175 and is buried in the Cave of Machpelah by Isaac and Ishmael together.  Ishmael has 12 sons, who all become chieftains of tribes, and he dies at 137.

Next week, this harmonious family interlude is at an end.

Shabbat shalom,



Two from 2009



The old man had died. A wonderful funeral was in progress and the country preacher talked at length of the good traits of the deceased, what an honest man he was, and what a loving husband and kind father he was.

Finally, the widow leaned over and whispered to one of her children, “Go up there and take a look in the coffin and see if that’s your pa.”



 GLOSSARY OF THE SHADCHANIC [matchmaking] LANGUAGE [excerpts] 
*nice looking = ugly 
*attractive = does not require a bag over his/her head to be seen with in public. 
*well-groomed = has showered within the last week 
*best boy in the yeshiva = managed to get in, barely, with assistance of his uncle, the Rosh [head of the yeshiva]
*from a good family = parents are on speaking terms and no immediate relatives in jail. 
*very intelligent = very boring 
*tall (man) = 5 7 ” to 7’1 
*short (man) = 4’1 ” to 5′ 
*tall (woman) = Amazon 
*short (woman) = sub-midget 
*a bit shy = under psychiatric care for neurosis 
*quiet = had a frontal lobotomy 





Graveyard Humor

Department of Social Services, Greenville, South Carolina

Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 2013 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you.

You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.

Found in a cemetery in Albany, New York, USA:
Harry Smith
Born 1903 – Died 1942. 
Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was.
Found in La Pointe, Wisconsin, USA:
To the Memory of Abraham Beaulieu 
Born 15 September 1822 
Accidentally shot 4th April 1844 
As a mark of affection from his brother.

Margaret Daniels grave at Hollywood cemetery, Richmond, Virginia, USA:
She always said her feet were killing her but nobody believed her.

Found in Elmwood cemetery, Burlington, Vermont, USA:
She lived with her husband fifty years
And died in the confident hope of a better life

Rest in Peace?
Iris Benbow, recently widowed, requested the epitaph ‘Rest in Peace’ on her husband’s gravestone.

When Iris later found that he had left all his money to his mistress, she attempted to get the mason to change the carving. This proved impossible as the words had been chiselled by a stonemason and could not be changed.
‘In that case,’ Iris demanded, ‘please add “Until We Meet Again.” ‘ 




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