Torah Portion In Real Time: Hayyei-sarah  

My dear readers, in the beginning I was uncertain when publishing the article about the first Torah Portion of the year. There are so many sites with Parashat Shavua commentaries,  I thought,  do my readers really need another one? However, the interest in these articles has been very encouraging, so we’ll keep discussing Parashat 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’s delve into the text.

 

LIFE IN DEATH

First of all, it seems that the title “Hayyei-Sarah” (“Sarah’s life”) is not the most suitable 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”[1].  But here is the first lesson of this portion: even after Sarah’s death, lives and narratives were still influenced by her life – Hayyei Sarah. God desires His people to live in such a way that their lives have an impact on those around them—so even when they pass from this world, people and stories will continue to bear their names.

Why did Sarah die? In  Jewish tradition Sarah’s death in Genesis 23 is juxtaposed to the events of Genesis 22: when Sarah heard that “her son was prepared for slaughter and was almost slaughtered, her soul flew out  of her and she died”[2]  (Sarah died at the age of 127, it means, by the way,  that according to this tradition, Isaac was 37 years old  when he was led to Mount Moriah, and not a child as  he is often portrayed in the Christianity).

Next, we learn something very significant about Abraham. Pay close attention to what Abraham is saying to the children of Heth while trying to buy a burying place for Sarah: I am a stranger and a sojourner. How humble are these words: he knows very well that he is just a stranger among people around him. But what do children of Heth answer him? “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”, not as a helpless stranger, it means that God must be shining through you! It means that His strength is seen in your weakness, that His power empowers you, that it’s not you whom the people see – but God in you.

THE INTRIGUING DETAIL

In Genesis 24, Rebecca, an amazing young woman, makes a life-changing decision: to leave her home and to go to Canaan to marry Isaac. At the end of this long and eventful chapter Rebekah sees Isaac for the first time. In English, we read: she dismounted from her camel. However, these words don’t bring out the original Hebrew meaning correctly: ותפל מעל הגמל – and she fell down, fell off the camel. She literally falls off her camel!  Why did Rebekah fall?

We read that Isaac was coming from the way of Beer Lahai Roi[3], the Well of The Living One Who Sees Me.  This profound name tells us that, even after the Mount Moriah event, when Isaac disappears completely from the pages of Torah, he did not disappear from God’s sight: It was not his earthly father, but his Heavenly Father who restored him after the terrible shock he went through—The One Who Sees Me Lives.

I believe that, after the time he had spent with God, Isaac must have been resplendent with God’s light and shining with God’s glory. Rashi writes about Rebecca and this initial meeting: “She saw his majestic appearance, and she was astounded by him.” Isaac is coming up out of the desert, radiating God’s light and dazzling Rebekah as she laid eyes on him for the first time.

Maybe, this is an additional reason why “she took her veil and covered herself.[4] Of course she covered herself as a token of subjection to her future husband—a bride had to be brought veiled into the presence of her bridegroom. However, both her falling down from the camel, and covering herself make even more sense as we imagine Isaac shining and dazzling Rebekah.

The story of Isaac and Rebecca’s love is one of the most beautiful, romantic stories in Torah.  However, the most wonderful thing about this story is that it required the faith of several people to become a story of true love. The lesson is very clear: the best families and marriages, before they become  stories of love, have to be stories of faith.

THE FIRST “LOVE”

We then witness the story of faith becoming indeed the story of love: Isaac … took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her (יֶּאֱהָבֶ֑הָ). Is there anything specific that this amazing Hebrew root, ahav, can tell us here?

It is very important to note that in a romantic sense, as referring to a relationship between a man and a woman, the verb “love” (ahav) occurs here for the first time in the entire Torah (and for the second time overall). There is no doubt that Abraham loved Sarah, yet Scripture never uses this word to describe their relationship. Isaac’s feelings for Rebecca must have been very intense if the Torah finds it necessary to use this verb.

Even more remarkable is the fact that the first time we find this root is in Genesis 22, where God says to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love אהבת)).It’s very interesting to note that, on both occasions, the verb “to love” is attached to Isaac: he was the one who was loved in Genesis 22, and he is the one who loves in Genesis 24.

The eternal truth of parenting is revealed through this Hebrew root: We are to love our children, so that they will be full of love when they grow up. One has to be loved (by the earthly father and /or by the Heavenly Father), in order to be able to love. Isaac was the first person whom the Torah addresses as being loved by his father – he was also the first person whom the Torah addresses as loving his wife!

 

If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/    .   Also, I would like to remind you, that we offer a course on the Weekly Torah Portion, and those interested to study in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, are welcome to sign up for this course or to contact me  (juliab@eteachergroup.com) for more information and for the discount.

 

 

[1] Gen.23:2

[2] Gen. Rabbah 58:5

[3] Gen. 24:63

[4] Gen. 24:65

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.

You might also be interested in:

Torah Portion In Real Time:...

By Julia Blum

Torah Portion In Real Time: Toldot

By Julia Blum

Join the conversation (8 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Paul Kristofferson

    Sarah & Rebekah, are both remarkable women. Both are regal virtuous women chosen by Adonai. Their characters play major parts in the narrative. I find it interesting that both needed Adonai to help them conceive.

    1. Julia Blum

      Shalom Paul. You are right, of course: we find a lot of parallels between the lives of Abraham and Isaac (so many that some secular scholars think that Isaac did not exist at all), and their wives being barren is one of these parallels (and a very important one). However, I personally always look for the differences in these similar stories, and in my post on parashah Toledot I will address those differences. I will publish the post tomorrow, so – stay tuned 🙂 !

  2. Michele Thompson

    Thank you Julia for extending the conversation in G-d’s Word with commentary that is both provocative and original. One thought I have re: the reference that ‘Christianity’ is the source of our understanding that Isaac was a boy at the time of G-d’s testing of Abraham. The Hebrew in verses 5 and 12 of Genesis 22 uses the term na’ar (nun-ayin-resh) which can be translated as boy, or lad, as well as young man. When I read my Hebrew Bible, the side by side English translation indicates the word ‘boy’ for each of those verses. It may be that Isaac was indeed a young man at that time, While I am not familiar with the ‘tradition’ you have referenced, Genesis 25 indicates that Isaac was 40 years of age when he took Rebecca for his wife. It seems just as likely that someone at the age of 37 or so would not be perceived as the lad/young man of verses 5 and 12. At any rate, I do not see it as an ‘interpretation’ of Christianity, based on the Hebrew.

    Thank you,

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your comment Michele, it’s wonderful that you read your Bible in Hebrew. As for your question: first of all, in verse 5 the word na’ar (in plural) refers to those men who accompanied Abraham, and not to Isaac. In verse 12, indeed, the Angel says “na’ar” about Isaac – but we have several cases just in the book of Genesis where this word designates a young man in his twenties or even thirties. For instance, when the chief butler tells Pharaoh about Joseph he calls him “naar” – and we know that Joseph was 30 years old when he was called to Pharaoh (Gen 41:12). Judah uses the word “na’ar” for Benjamin, even though Benjamin was in his late twenties (Gen.43:8, 44:22). Usually this word means “the youngest in the party” (sometimes it means “servant”) – but it doesn’t necessarily define the age.

  3. David Hereford

    Thank you so much for sharing with us the light Father is giving you. His light truly is shining all over the earth for those willing to see it.

  4. Lisa Meyer

    Extremely interesting. Thank you for adding so many fine details that gives so much meaning to this parsha.

  5. Erich Grosse

    Absolutely fascinating!

  6. Nick

    Love the parsha format. Thanks, Nick