A Sword Piercing the Soul
Right after Aqedat Itzhak, in Chapter 23 of Genesis, a new Torah Portion begins: “Chayei-Sarah”. Despite the title: “Chayei-Sarah,” which means “Sarah’s life,” Sarah dies in this portion; moreover, she dies right away, in the second verse of Chapter 23. Then in the next chapter, the Torah moves to Isaac—to choosing a wife for him—as if to show that Hayyei-Sarah, Sarah’s life, was all about Isaac. Was Sarah’s death also connected to Isaac?
Last time, we spoke about Isaac being an adult in Genesis 22, and even mentioned his age – 37 years old. Where do we get this from? In the Jewish tradition, Sarah’s death in Genesis 23 is juxtaposed to the events of Genesis 22: Midrash Genesis Rabbah writes that, when Sarah heard that “her son was prepared for slaughter and was almost slaughtered, her soul flew out of her and she died.” The Torah tells us that Sarah died at the age of 127, which means that Isaac was 37 when he was led to Mount Moriah. And, once again, Isaac’s obedience, his free consent and selfless readiness to be sacrificed, all become even more significant if he was a grown man and not just an obedient child. Many years later we still hear the echo of the enormous trauma that this grown man experienced on Mount Moriah, in the words of his son: several times, Jacob would refer to his father’s God as the “Fear of Isaac” ( פַ֤חַד יִצְחָק֙ ).
Commenting on the previous Torah Portion, I compared two mothers, Sarah and Mary (Miriam), Jesus’ mother, at the moment of their great joy—divine annunciation. This portion, however, makes us think of the deep anguish that both mothers endured because of the suffering of their sons. While blessing baby Jesus, Simeon said to Miriam: “a sword will pierce through your own soul also”. Both mothers indeed experienced this sword piercing their souls: as we think of Sarah dying of distress and grief for her son, we can’t help but also remember Jesus’ mother standing at the foot of the cross!
Three Years And Three Days
There is another parallel between Isaac and Jesus that is largely overlooked by Christian commentators – mainly because they assume Isaac was a child during the Aqedah. However, if we believe that he was 37 years old, as I just wrote, then we arrive at a very interesting conclusion – because Aqedat Yitzhaq, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, contains, among other enigmas, one more mystery that our sages have long pointed out. After all that happened on Mount Moriah—after the raised knife was stopped by the voice from heaven—Genesis 22:19 states: Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba. Isaac isn’t mentioned there at all, the Scripture informs us only about Abraham’s return. What happened to Isaac after the Aqedah? Where did he go? He vanishes, and does not reappear until Genesis 24, right before his meeting with Rebekah. How old was he then? We know that “Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebecca” – and that means that he had disappeared for exactly three years. For three years, nobody had seen him! Nobody?
Genesis 24:62 tells us that Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi. If you don’t know Hebrew, this name means nothing. In Hebrew, however, it is incredibly profound: The Well of the Living One Who Sees Me! This is the message of this name: while Isaac seemed to vanish from everyone else – to vanish from among the living – he never vanished from God’s sight. God saw him! The Living One Sees Me! Isaac’s three years after his suffering – just like Jesus’s three days after His suffering – were hidden from the people, but they were not hidden from God. This is another amazing parallel that we discover in these chapters.
Make This Day Happen Before Me
Like in a good family show, once the main female character of the previous chapters dies, almost immediately a new female character appears. In Genesis 23, Sarah dies; in Genesis 24, we witness Abraham’s servant being sent to Haran to find a wife for his young master. The story of Isaac and Rebecca’s love is one of the most beautiful love stories in Torah – however, before it became a truly romantic story of love, it was a story of faith. And of course, the first prominent character here is Abraham’s senior servant (probably Eliezer, though his name is not mentioned in this chapter). Although by this time, he 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. When he is standing by the well (Another well! Be aware of the wells in the Bible – so many life-changing things happen at wells), he prays: O Lord God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. In English, he prays for “success” of his mission, for “good speed” or “good fortune”, depending on translation. However, if translated literally, he is asking God to “make this day happen before me” (הַקְרֵה-נָא לְפָנַי הַיּוֹם ). He is praying for God’s guidance – and it’s important to note that this is the very first prayer for divine guidance recorded in the Bible.
Then he prays for a kind and humble girl. Pay close attention: he does not pray for her looks or wealth; it is her kind and serving attitude and behavior that he is putting as a sign before God.
We all know that his prayer was answered immediately and precisely, and we also know that he was absolutely overwhelmed by this immediate answer. This “day” was indeed happening “before him”, exactly as he prayed – and he just watched in awe and amazement at what God was doing: And the man, wondering at her, remained silent so as to know whether the Lord had made his journey prosperous or not. The word translated here as “remained silent”, might also mean: “to be speechless”. Eliezer was absolutely speechless as he saw God’s handwriting in this story and realized that God Himself had chosen the girl for Isaac.
Then we hear surprising words from Rebecca’s father and brother, after they listened to the servant’s testimony: Mi-Adonai Yatza Ha-Davar – “this thing came from Yod–Hey-Vav–Hey!” We seldom see non-believers use this unique, personal name of God in the Bible; perhaps the reality of God’s presence was so evident, that even those who didn’t know and worship Him, were still ready to admit His guidance in this story.
However, the most incredible character here is undoubtedly Rebecca herself—the most impressive part of this story is the faith of this young woman! When the servant appears from nowhere and presents before her the choice of her life: whether she will go with him to be a wife for Abraham’s son, as you can imagine, it was very different for her then that it would be now: 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 this decision and leave behind everything and everyone she knew and loved bears witness to an absolutely outstanding character! She said “Yes!” – and this is yet another ‘Yes’ to God, as we see many times throughout this book—yet another story of entering God’s plan and God’s blessings by surrendering one’s life to Him.
 Gen. Rabbah 58:5
 Luke 2:35
 Gen. 25:20
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