DEDICATION: This is a new feature to these divrei -- and a way for those who would like to help me continue my studies to do so. These emails are free to all who ask to be part of the list, and will remain so. If you would like to support these efforts and dedicate one to someone or just to support it, I welcome that.
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The practice of writing these the second year through is quite interesting -- I seem to have this debate with myself about whether or not to read the prior year's d'var before or after I write the current one. There are arguments both ways. Against it says that I should be looking at it fresh, seeing what is there in today's context, and similar lines. For it says that I can either see if I think I was on the right track last year or if anything has changed -- and that way I won't say the same thing again and put folks to sleep.
So I argue with myself about the virtues of both approaches -- and another of my facets watches the first two and says, Oy, if you'd only put that energy into writing it, it would be done already.... Another part of me says -- so who reads these, anyway? Have you checked with your readers to see if they even look at this? (And I promise that aspect that I will take the time to ask my readers if what I do is really of service and what they would like to see to make it more effective for them -- so look for this survey....)
This week I participated in an interfaith panel discussion war and religion. We had an interesting imam, a Catholic nun, two ministers (Lutheran and Baptist?) and me. We each talked for 6-7 minutes on what our traditions had to say about war and religion and then fielded questions -- the entire program was scheduled for one hour -- we wrapped up in about two.
There are so many emotions flying and raw feelings and downright hurts associated with the events of 9-11 that it takes time to sort through this. And the healing must take so many paths that, in fact, prayers almost need to be simply that we CAN heal and that we do so without hurting a lot of people -- including those we love most. I have, in fact, been struggling with this issue deeply. I have managed to get some of this down on paper -- so look for more info here soon.
Somehow, this struggle of how to grieve is very much a part of our lives and our times -- and that of Avraham in his public role with private anguish and for Yitzkhak in the white spaces. -- The white fire on white fire....
1. Parsha details: Gen 18:1-22:24 (tri 18:1-33) [Haftorah II Kings 4:1-37 (Seph to 4:23)]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Sarah dies at 127 and Avraham buys the cave of Machpelah as a burial cave. Avraham charges Eliezer, his servant, to go get a wife for Yitzkhak and by all means, don't let Yitzkhak go there. Eliezer finds Rivka and brings her back and she and Yitzkhak are married. Avraham's other sons from Keturah, Avraham's death, Yishmael's toldot (generations, outcome), and the birth of Ya'akov and Esav and the famine.
Grief and comfort, death and birth, the march of time. Sarah, the only woman whose life is delineated in Torah like this, and yet we know so little about her directly -- in fact, she is a prime example of what we can learn from the white space in Torah -- from the words unspoken.
She is an extremely beautiful woman whose looks hide her years (or she wouldn't have been so popular to be taken by other men). She is strong willed (as in her dealings with Hagar) and very devoted to her son, Yitzkhak (based on his evidenced grief and insistence on Hagar's leaving). She is intelligent because God tells Avraham to listen to all that she says.
It is interesting that in the three years between her death and the arrival of Rivka (Rebecca), no one has moved into her tent (which has remained standing). Now, Hagar took a wife for Yishma'el, but Yitzkhak is still unmarried when Sarah dies. Was she expected to be the one to do this? Is that why Avraham sends Eliezer? (Was it the woman's job in that generation?)
Sarah's and Avraham's strong personalities are in strong contrast to Yitzkhak. Without Sarah to protect him, Avraham makes Eliezer swear that he will not take/allow the boy-man to go to Kharan, to Avraham's father's house. This is an imperative with Avraham -- he mentions it twice. And, Eliezer is not to take a wife for Yitzchak from the Canaanite women. Does this mean that Avraham is looking for a passive woman? Not at all.
Avraham wants Eliezer to find a women able to make decisions on her own and skilled in the requisite social graces - either trained or instinctively aware of how to treat strangers and travelers -- something near and dear to Avraham. And Eliezer finds such a woman in Rivka as she passes every test well. And she even goes beyond that -- as they approach Yitzkhak in the field where he has been meditating, she puts on her veil before they are close enough to see each other. In the near future, we will get to see just how clever and skilled Rivka is, especially in matters that involve Yitzkhak.
Back to Yitzkhak -- we get another indication of his character in the little detail about how Avraham isolated him. "But to the sons of the concubines, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, to the east country.(25:6)"
And Yitzkhak and Yishma'el are able to come together only briefly enough to bury Avraham after his death. Now they probably lived near each other -- the well that we are told Yitzkhak lived near and that he had come from to go into the field to meditate -- is the same well from which Hagar revived the dying Yishma'el. So all this "stuff" is going on in a relatively small bit of real estate, even for back then.
3. Some Observations
There are some interesting structures in the Hebrew. One of these is the small letter chaf in the second pasuk (libkhotah - wailed) where it says that "Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to wail for her." My father, Reb Sholom (a'h), taught that this small letter was an indication of Avraham's deep sense of loss where words and even tears cause choking in our throats and hearts. The original meaning of this word is the profuse public demonstration of the grief/mourning that was customary in that place and time -- And Avraham was torn between the requirements of honoring her according to their positions/status and his need to just 'be' with his grief.
And so he did the minimum public 'wailing and lamenting' that would befit their station and then sought privacy for his deep sense of loss (that he felt none would even begin to comprehend). This attitude/behavior pattern is further supported by the way he conducts the dealings with Efron to buy the cave -- he does 'just enough' that no one can say he cheated Efron of any money or status (except perhaps for the glee of bargaining) in accepting Efron's first price and paying it carefully -- by doing that he minimized the time and effort spent in this purchase. And he was rich enough that the price really didn't matter -- certainly not more than being 'over' with the public display would have offset.
And then we have the death of Avraham -- Yitzkhak and Yishma'el come together as his sons to burry him. We hear nothing about the other children -- what did they do or not do? And we hear nothing more about Yishma'el and Yitzkhak having any activities together after this. Ah, family dynamics....
And another understanding of the dynamics of grief. Brothers who do absolutely nothing together (that we hear about) come together to bury their father. This was probably harder on Yishma'el than on Yitzkhak because of their positions -- and this is the family plot -- Sarah is buried there. We do not know when Hagar dies or where she is buried -- she has faded from the story.
Now one thing we can gather from this is that there is still a relationship between Yishma'el and Avraham -- or why would he have come? My personal guess is that Eliezer is the one who send word to Yishma'el. And there will be evidence of some familial connections in that Esav will take a wife from among the daughters of Yishma'el's first born.
The emotions of Avraham are laid quite bare for us -- they spill over from the white space back into the words. The public display of appropriate grief becoming almost a burden for Avraham. His desire to grieve privately and deeply are almost palpable in the narrative -- with the cave becoming a witness to that love not only in our memory, but in that of the Hittites, as well. The very public purchase of this cave must have stood out because of the way in which Avraham conducted himself.
This site has been part of our memory for a very long time -- and there is a site called the cave with a building over it built in Herod's day and some archeological work that claims they may have found the real cave nearby. The Herodian building has been turned into a mosque and so there is very limited access to it. Even Josephus talks about this cave. Talmud refers to it as one of the things that gives us rights within the land. I wonder how big a cave it might have been. Where would the other members of the household have been buried?
4. Expanding Sophistication
Expanding Sophistication or the Glory of Mercy. The deaths of Sarah and Avraham could be seen in this light. Certainly there is the Khesed, the mercy, shown in our tradition to the dead. Our tradition calls for simple and kind handling of the dead -- something I recommend everyone consider experiencing -- that is, caring for a body and preparing it for burial. And when this is done with Khesed, with mercy, then there is always the glory in the recognition of the spark that once filled that body.
There are three accounts of deaths of righteous people in this Parsha -- Sarah, then Avraham and then Yishma'el. And so it goes, from one generation to the next -- the duty and obligation -- the khesed and the love and the dignity of grief honored both publicly and by allowing the privacy that is also needed. It is only by going through the grief, crossing that narrow bridge, that healing can occur. Will there be a scar? Always. But there can also be healing -- healing doesn't lessen love, it honors it.
1. Field: Yitzkhak went into the field to meditate at evening. What is so powerful about evening and about the field? Take a walk in a field or garden just at the beginning of evening. What happens with the shadows? How do they move? Do the smells change? Is there a breeze? Does it shift? Can you hear the rustle of the leaves? How about of the leaves that are no longer there?
2. Kindness: Rivka performed a random act of kindness when she gave water to Eliezer and his animals. Perform an act of random kindness each day in her memory. She agreed to leave her home forever with a man she had just met to be the wife to a man she did not know. She knew it would be a long trip. She had never been to Hebron before. What kind of person did she have to be to be able to make this decision?
3. Memories: People we love live on in our memories. What do you remember about people that you have loved? What did they look like? What was your favorite facial expression? What words can you still hear them saying? Can you hear them laugh? Can you smell the scents that you remember with them? What was their favorite food? Color? Movie? Do you smile at the memory, even if it brings tears to your eyes? Acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to feel it as it washes the wound of the tear and allows just a bit of healing.
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
You can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2001 Shafir Lobb All rights reserved