1. Parsha Details
Parsha Details: Gen 23:1-25:18 (tri 24:53-25:18) [Haftorah I Kings 1:1-31]
2. Questions and a few observations
Genesis continues to be busy indeed. We start out with the death of Sarah at 127. Midrash tells us that her death was related to the Akedah in the previous parsha -- that in fact, when Abraham returned from his mysterious trip and tells her what happened and what he ALMOST did, she dies in a dead faint. While graphic and interesting, I have some problems with this detail. First, Isaac is a Na'ar, a youth in the Akedah. In this parsha he is at least 36 (Sarah was 91 when Isaac was born and I would not expect a 36 year old to be called a na'ar).
And Abraham buys a cave to bury Sarah, he sends his servant to his brother's house to find Isaac a wife, which happens. Abraham takes another wife, Ketura, has six more sons, and then dies at 175 (Isaac is 75). The parsha wraps up with the death of Ishmael at 137 (he was 89 when Abraham died). Arithmetic appears to become important in getting some of the details in this section.
So let's go back to Sarah's death. She is well loved by Abraham and Isaac from the comments we hear about their grief. Torah gives a beautiful insight into contracting at this period. There is a very formal exchange of information, money and land "in the hearing of the Hittites, the people of the land". First he publicly asks for land stating his desired use (to bury his dead), then the people state the availability of land, Abraham announces his selection, the owner agrees to the sale and states the price (a 'small' sum, advertised as "What is that between you and me?"), Abraham agrees to the prices, pays it publicly in current/fresh' money through an 'independent' intermediary and takes possession of the cave and the fields around it.
This is a very oral society using public decree to transfer formal ownership of land "before our sons" so that the deed will be honored after their deaths. One can just hear Ephron saying "what is this..." grandly to imply, let's not haggle here, I know you need the land and you can afford what I am asking. Torah tells us Abraham 'listened' to Ephron -- in other words, he understood both the spoken AND the unspoken and agreed to the terms. Abraham's honor and prestige were part of the ceremony, as was Ephron's.
Interesting to note that the land over which Abraham and his flocks and herds travelled were probably 'free land', belonging to no-one. Burial caves and the like were worthy of ownership.
Another set of ceremonies surrounds Eliezar's trip to Nakhor to find and get Isaac's wife. Eliezar is not named by name, but rather by function in this parsha. We know his name from Abraham's earlier discussion with God about who should inherit his fortune and possessions. I won't dwell on these here, but do recommend that you spend some time reading this part for the ceremony.
However, let's look at some details from this part -- Abraham uses an interesting phrase to describe God when he instructs Eliezar to swear in or by "YHVH, God of the heavens and God of the earth" Once again, this is a unique reference to God -- used only in Bereyshit in Torah -- twice in this chapter and never again. It is used once in Chronicles by Cyrus, king of Persia. Other uses in Tanakh include Ezra once, Jonah once and Nehemiah four times, each time in the mouth of the prophet (Jonah in fact, tells us that the God of the Heavens made the sea and the heavens).
Eliezar calls God by His Name when he prays to Him and worships Him. Eliezar is a devout man -- he has a very close, daily relationship with God. He suggests to God the signal that would show him the right girl for Isaac. And he even pauses to confirm that this feeling is right as the scene unfolds. This is a very pure and trusting relationship with God. And he is devoted to Abraham, living up to the spirit of the oath as well as the word -- he never waivers in skillfully executing every part.
Now Midrash tells us that Rivka is only 3 years old. Again, I have a problem with this idea -- she is caring for the flocks, getting water from the well, carrying pitchers on her shoulder and Eliezar gives her bracelets weighing 10 shekels each. To a three year old? Torah would have called her a child, but she is called na'ara, a youth -- the same as Isaac was at the Akedah. (13-14? probably -- we know she was still a virgin because this is stated explicitly -- and because it is stated, she must be approaching the 'marrying' age.)
She is asked specifically if she is willing to go with Eliezar and she consents -- marriage requires her agreeement. And then, she is smart enough (and old enough) to know to cover herself with a veil as Isaac comes towards them.
Now the blessing the family says to Rivka as she departs is very reminiscent of the blessing Abraham receives from the messenger at the Akedah, including that her seed posess the gates of their enemies.
Another interesting point -- Isaac has gone "to meditate in the field at the evening time" when Eliezar and Rivka arrive. The Hebrew word is Su'akh, which also happens to be the name of one of Abraham's six sons by Keturah. A possible translation of this pasuk could be " And Isaac went out to Su'akh in the field at the evening time..." It has traditionally been translated as meditate, however. It also interesting to note that this word appears nowhere else in Tanakh. In Mishna, the word is used as a type of tree which grows freely in the land.
Rivka fills a void in Isaac's life left by his mother's death. (Next week's parsha gives us the arithmetic to know this has been about three years), and she becomes his wife.
Abraham takes another wife (Midrash equates her with Hagar), Keturah, who gives him six sons, including Midian. We are then told that Abraham gave everything to Isaac and gifts to the sons of the concubines, which he sent away from Isaac pretty early.
Then Abraham dies (v'yigva v'yamat) and is buried by both Isaac and Ishmael. So Ishmael comes from wherever he is living to participate in the burial. From this we would gather that Abraham continues to a) keep in touch with him and b) be a part of his life. We do not hear about any of the other sons doing anything more than having their own sons. The phrase used to describe Abraham's death is one used for devout men. It is not used to describe Sarah's death, but it is used to describe Ishmael's death a few pasukim later.
Three interesting deaths and one new marriage. A busy parsha.
3. Some Observations
Three deaths -- Sarah, Abraham and then Ishmael. Let's do a little white space here -- Tikun shows us that there are four parts to this parsha -- Sarah's death and the purchase of Makhpela, Eliezar's trip, Abraham's wife Keturah and his death, Ishmael's generations and death. The first two parts are related -- we have only a slight white space. The last two sections are bookkeeping and addenda, even though they include Abraham and Ishmael's deaths -- they neaten up loose details before the narrative goes on.
This parsha gives some marvelous insights into the characters of the participants. Sarah is the subject of much love, both by Abraham and by Isaac. Abraham is well respected both by his sons (at least the two he kept contact with) and by his servants and by the surrounding folk.
So why does he always have to send sons away from Isaac? Are they a bad influence? After all, he is the one to get the covenant, and they don't. But Ishmael dies a devout man and becomes the father of princes and nations (Ismaelites...). So is the problem Isaac? Do we see portends that perhaps Isaac can be manipulated, fooled, or otherwise tricked? Is the selection of Rivka so important because she will be more mother to Jacob than Isaac will be father? (or do I know too much about upcoming details...). Was Isaac going out to meditate and approach God or was he going out to visit with a younger brother or just walk among some trees?
We are not given the kindest picture of Isaac, even at this point. The sons of great men have a lot to live up to and often, fail to do so. Isaac appears a somewhat simple man, with his father attending to details in his life perhaps long after most would do so. Is this overbearing on the part of Abraham or just something needed. Midrash implies this to be the case in the story of the oath of Eliezar -- just in case Abraham doesn't live long enough to get Isaac married.
Abraham lives about 35 years into Isaac's marriage. Since Torah has concluded his life in this parsha, we will hear no more formal activities on his part -- we will have to read between the lines to see what part he played in Isaac and Rivka's family. Perhaps one of the most interesting omissions in this parsha is that we hear nothing of Abraham's reaction to Rivka. As always, Torah is most fascinating, not in what it chooses to tell us, but by what it chooses to omit.
1. Trees: Walk among the trees and listen to the wind rustle in the leaves that aren't there.
2. Prayer: Think about prayer -- what is it for? When do we do it. How do we approach it -- is it part of every day?
3. Name: God of the Heavens and God of the Earth. Let the Power and Energy of the Heavens swirl about and through you. Feel the oneness of the Earth blend with you, be part of you. Avinu sebashamayim uva'aretz. (Our Father who is in the heavens and in the earth)
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)
(c) 2000 Candy Lobb All rights reserved.