Chayei Sarah (חַיֵּי שָׂרָה) means “life of Sarah.” The Torah portion actually begins with Sarah’s death at the age of 127. (Tradition has it that she died of shock, from either horror at the thought that Abraham would sacrifice their son or relief that he hadn’t.) But when someone dies, we need to focus on, and celebrate, that person’s life. Someone who has died should be remembered for the life led more than the circumstances of death. This is especially true after the horrific murders last week of Daniel Stein, 71; Joyce Feinberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal 54; husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69 in Pittsburgh and Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67 in Kentucky. Learning about each of them as individuals honors their memory and brings a small measure of comfort, even though the pain is still sharp.
When Sarah dies, Abraham wants not only to bury her but to provide a family plot in perpetuity. This was not trivial. As Nahum Sarna explains in Chapter X of Understanding Genesis (1966), Abraham was only a resident alien and so it was a big deal for him to be granted land ownership. While the bargaining between Abraham and Ephron appears simply to be flowery Near Eastern oratory, it is actually a carefully crafted legal transaction. It’s done in public at the city gate, the community meeting place; and the text contains specific legal terminology that is found in ancient Near Eastern court records of property transfers. And so, Abraham buries Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah.
After a suitable mourning period, Abraham gets on with the business of tying up important loose ends before his own demise. The most important of these is finding a wife for Isaac to continue to the family line. Why doesn’t Isaac do this himself? We are not told. Abraham decides marriage to a Canaanite is out of the question, so he sends his trusted servant (unnamed, but assumed to be Eliezer) to Haran to find a nice monotheistic girl for Isaac, preferably from his own family.
In Haran, at the well (where else?), Eliezer prays that Isaac’s bashert not only give him water but offer to water his camels as well, as much bigger job. To us, this sounds like a typical fairy tale gambit – Cinderella’s foot must fit the slipper, Princess Aurora can only be awakened by her true love’s kiss, and so on. A different take (Sarna, op. cit., p. 173) is that Eliezer is praying for guidance so that his choice would indeed reflect God’s will. At any rate, Rebecca not only gives water to Eliezer and his camels but rushes to do so. Furthermore, she is beautiful, a virgin, and she turns out to be the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor. Jackpot!
However, when Eliezer meets Rebecca’s family, we get a few hints that something is not exactly as it should be. Rebecca’s brother, Laban, seems to have an awful lot of authority, but there is evidence in ancient records of a system of fratriarchy, in which a brother has jurisdiction over his siblings, for example, concerning marriage. Laban behaves correctly, yet he seems more motivated by the gold jewelry Rebecca now wears than by a sincere desire to be hospitable. Rebecca is asked whether she wants to accept the offer and leave with this man of a few hours’ acquaintance, to go marry an unknown cousin far away and maybe never see her Haran family again. Despite her family’s wish that she and Eliezer wait a while, she decides to leave immediately. Is there some reason she’s so anxious to leave home? Rebecca leaves Haran, with her family’s blessing, and meets Isaac in a field. They marry. Isaac loves her. We are never told that Rebecca loves Isaac.
Abraham takes a third consort, Keturah, by whom he has six sons, ancestors of various tribes. At the age of 175, content with his life, Abraham dies. He is buried alongside Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah by his sons Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael has twelve sons, progenitors of 12 tribes, and dies when he is 137.
Next week, we read how Isaac and Rebecca didn’t exactly live happily ever after.
What a Deal!
The matchmaker was very anxious to conclude a chasseneh [marriage] between the son of his longtime friend and his own niece. It wasn’t just the fee involved, either. The old broker was certain they would make a happy and loving couple. But the young man would have none of the prospective bride, a recent widow.
“You call this a good match?” he rebuked the shadchan. “That woman is the mother of four children!”
“All right, so she’s the mother of four. By you this is bad? Take the word of an experienced man — it’s much better so!”
“What do you mean, better?”
“My boy, did you ever stop to think that if you married a maiden and decided to have four children, what kind of tsuris [troubles] you’d go through?”
“I don’t think that’s so much trouble.”
“Ha! The experienced man is talking! You never had to go through four pregnancies! And you live two flights up in the apartment house so you have to carry your wife up the stairs when you bring her back from the hospital. So what happens? I’ll tell you exactly what happens — you sprain your back and now you’re both convalescing. And if your wife doesn’t recuperate from the childbirth, what do you do? You send her to the Catskills for a rest, that’s what!
“Here you are, living in the city and she’s in the country. And who’ll look after the kinder[children] while you are working or maybe laid up in a sick bed, and she’s away? Will you do all the cooking and cleaning and washing of diapers? You call that a kind of life?
“On the other hand, I’m offering you a fine-looking widow with four ready-made children: no fuss, no bother, no expense — custom-tailored, just for you. My boy, anybody who doesn’t grab this proposition is out of his mind!”
[Now that’s a salesman!]
Quotes on the Celebration of Life
Life is passion, celebration in the face of chaos, light in the face of darkness, hope in the face of despair, and joy, for the universe without life feels nothing, is nothing, and does nothing except slowly die. Rick Tumlinson
I was born and trained to communicate music, just as the sons were born and trained to hunt, and I was lucky to have grown up in Hungary, a country that lives and breathes music-that has a passionate belief in the power of music as a celebration of life. Georg Solti
My photographs are a celebration of life, fun and the beautiful. They are a world that doesn’t exist. A fantasy. Freedom is real. There are no rules. The life I wish I was living. Ryan McGinley
Let no one weep for me or celebrate my funeral with mourning; for I still live, as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men. Quintus Ennius
(#5 of the)Top 5 Cemetery Jokes
Oct13 by gravetender06
#5. Two men were walking home after a Halloween party and decided to take a shortcut through the cemetery just for laughs. Right in the middle of the cemetery they were startled by a tap-tap-tapping noise coming from the misty shadows. Trembling with fear, they found an old man with a hammer and chisel, chipping away at one of the headstones.
“Holy Cow, mister”, one of them said after catching his breath. “You scared us half to death… we thought you were a ghost! What are you doing working here so late at night?”
“Those fools!”, the old man grumbled. “They misspelled my name!”