Lost In Translation: Death In Life

My dear readers, we continue our “lost in translation” journey through the Torah Portions. At some point, we will definitely go back to the Book of Acts and continue the discussion that we started before the High Holidays, but for now, we will follow the Torah Portions cycle. Every year when a new cycle begins I find myself commenting again on these bottomless chapters. Yes, you can find Parashat Shavua commentaries on many other sites – and yes, even on these pages I have already commented on some of these portions. However, there are so many important, sometimes even crucial details in the Torah that are lost in translation and seen only in Hebrew, that I feel I need to show as many as possible of these details – therefore, we’ll keep discussing Parashot Shavua, at least through the book of Genesis. This week we read Hayyei-Sarah (Sarah’s life), Genesis 23:1-25:18, and this Torah portion, like almost every section of the Word, has a message for everyone: for young people looking for their ‘other half,’ for parents raising their children, and for people well advanced in age. Let us see what Hebrew brings us today.   

A Lesson of Humility

The very first thing that those reading in translation miss is a profound lesson of this Portion’s title: Hayyei-Sarah. When we read the Bible in English, we have the division into chapters, and that’s it – but the Hebrew Torah, along with chapter divisions, also has divisions into Torah portions (Parashat Shavua). Right after chapter 22, right after Aqedat Itzhak, a new Parasha begins: Sarah’s Life. It seems like a strange title for a Portion opening with the death of Sarah—right away, in the second verse, Sarah dies: “And Sarah died in Kiriatharba (the same is Hebron) in the land of Canaan.”  We learn a profound lesson from the very first verses of this portion: Sarah lived such a life that even after her death the lives of those around her were influenced by Hayyei-Sarah – Sarah’s life. God desires His people to live in such a way that their lives have an impact on those around them, so that even when they pass from this world, people and stories will continue to bear their names.

From the next verses, we learn something very significant about Abraham. For me, this is one of the most amazing testimonies of a man of God. Abraham tries to buy a burying place for Sarah, and he says to the children of Heth: I am a stranger and a sojourner among you.” However, what do the children of Heth reply to these humble words? “Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us.” This is the best testimony a person might aspire to: if you know that you are just a stranger and a sojourner, and yet people around you see you as “mighty prince”, it means that God must be shining through you and it’s not you whom they see – they see God in you! This is a great lesson in humility: “He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble[1]

The Servant

As we continue this lesson, we find that the next chapter is all about God shining, working, touching hearts, and changing lives through a humble man. Surprisingly, it’s not Abraham we are talking about now. At the beginning of Chapter 24, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his young master. Few remember this man, yet the entire amazing story that unfolds in this chapter is all based on the faith of this one man!

Who was this man? So humble was he, that Scripture doesn’t even provide his name, at least, not in this chapter. Likely, it was the same old servant Eliezer whom we know from the previous chapters (do you know, by the way, that the name Eliezer means “My God is my help”?) —however, in this chapter his name is not mentioned. Whoever he was, this story certainly demanded a great faith from him. Although by this time, the servant must have already witnessed many miracles that the Lord had performed in his master’s life, it would still have taken a good deal of faith to even undertake this journey, and to trust that the Lord would send him to the right girl.

We don’t hear much from him at the beginning of this journey. Then, we hear a simple prayer as he arrives and stands by the well outside the city. In translation, he prays for success: “O Lord God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day” (“good speed” or “good fortune”, depending on the translation). However, if translated literally, he is asking God: “please make this day happen before me” (הַקְרֵה-נָא לְפָנַי הַיּוֹם). In Hebrew, it sounds almost childish, he is asking for God’s help and guidance, and as we all know, the answer to this childish prayer was incredible!

Then he prays for a kind and humble girl. Pay close attention: he is not praying for her looks or wealth: It is her kind and serving attitude and behavior that he sets as a sign before God. We know that his terms were met immediately and precisely, and he was absolutely overwhelmed by this immediate answer.

21And the man, wondering at her, remained silent so as to know whether the Lord had made his journey prosperous or not.

One has to know God’s handwriting in one’s life and the feeling of awe that fills us every time we recognize His handwriting, in order to understand the feelings of the servant.  Like a double-exposed roll of film with its images overlapped, God’s as  yet invisible reality is showing through this seemingly routine episode—and he is absolutely overwhelmed by this invisible reality. The word translated here as “remained silent”, might also mean to be “speechless”. I think that was exactly what was happening to the servant: not only was he silent, he was speechless as he recognized God’s hand at work in this story!

I believe he experienced yet a greater shock when he realized that this invisible reality of God’s presence and guidance became visible and obvious to everyone— even to those who did not know God. Rebecca’s father and brother, after they hear the servant’s testimony, say some surprising words:

50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing comes from the Lord; we cannot speak to you either bad or good.”

 Mi-Adonai Yatza Ha-Davar – “this thing came from the Lord!” How obvious the Lord’s presence must have been in this man and in this story if people who didn’t know Him at all said these words!

However, the most incredible part of this story is Rebecca herself: Not only did she make the decision that changed her life forever; she made this decision within one day. Imagine: they didn’t have phones or internet, they didn’t have cars or planes, and for her to leave her home like this meant to leave it for good and probably never see her family again. The fact that she was able to make such a drastic decision to leave behind everything and everyone she knew and loved bears witness to Rebecca’s absolutely outstanding character!

Rebecca’s decision also bears great testimony to the servant’s character, though. Why did she say “Yes” when the servant appeared from nowhere and presented before her the choice of her life: Would she go with him to be Isaac’s wife? She didn’t grow up in a family of true believers, as Isaac did; she didn’t know God, as Isaac did; so what made her say “yes”? There is only one possible explanation:  when the servant appeared before her that day, somehow she knew that it was not just this servant, but Somebody in him and beyond him—Somebody much more than him—who stepped into her life and claimed this life. I suppose, like all young girls, she was interested in her future husband, but she knew almost nothing about him and had never seen him, so he was still not very real to her. However, that ‘Somebody’ who touched her heart through the servant, was so real that she decided at once that she wanted Him in her life. She saw God in this humble man, and she followed him in order to follow God. She said: “Yes” to the servant – but it was in fact, another ‘Yes’ to God, as we see many times throughout this book!

I have no doubt, that during the return journey, the servant thanked God for what He did for him; in his humility, I doubt he ever realized that what God did, He did through him. And it all started with one small and plain prayer of almost child-like trust: “please make this day happen before me”!

[1] Prov. 3:34


Excerpts from my books are included in many posts on this blog, so if you like my articles,  you might enjoy also my books, you can get them here. The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion)  classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying  in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  eTeacher  wonderful courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com) .

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Troy McClure

    She said: “Yes” to the servant. How often do we miss saying yes to the Servant, the Spirit of God, in our lives?

  2. Gladys Fox

    Thank you Dear Julia ,
    Yes there are many free sites that give commentaries , but of those I’ve tried none can compare to your teachings .
    It never ceases to amaze me at how much depth there is to the Bible and I believe that the Torah holds the key to understanding the rest of the Bible .
    I often wonder how Sarah would feel if she had known that thousands of years later people would know about her and give her great honor .
    Thank you also for telling us the meaning of the name Eliezer
    I am 79 years old and my kidneys are failing so I cherish everything you teach me because I don’t know how much time I have left. I however believe we will go on learning ever after our time on earth is done .
    May the God of Sarah and Rebecca bless you and keep His Light shinning through you always .

    1. Julia Blum

      Dear Gladys, I actually thought about you when I was writing the last sentence of this post: “The old servant thanked God for what He did for him; in his humility, I doubt he ever realized that what God did, He did through him<. I am as grateful for your faithfulness and your comments, as you are for my articles. Thank you!

  3. Viera Emunah

    Amazing! Julia, thank you again and again for helping us to receive the lost treasure. The view at Rebecca is really new for me. Todah rabbah !

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words, Viera! I have written several articles on this blog about Rebecca (they are part of the “Biblical portraits” series), maybe you will be interested to have a look. Here is the link to the first article: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/biblical-portraits-rebecca-1/

  4. Nick

    Just like life, scripture is interpreted creating a perception. That perception becomes your world. I am so thankful for Jewish thought, philosophy, and teachings pertaining to scripture. A much bigger universal perception than the narrow perceptions I grew up with-whether Torah law or these stories, there is more than one way to look at them.
    Thanks again my friend, Julia!

    1. Julia Blum

      There is definitely more than one way, Nick; that’s why we have the “70 faces of the Torah” concept.