Parashat Chayei Sarah – Erev Shabbat 13 November 2020
Week of 8-14 November 2020
Torah portion: Genesis 23:1-25:18 Haftarah: 1 Kings 1:1-31
Theme: The Life of Sarah and Abraham’s faith journey
The first event in Chapter 23 of this parasha called “the life of Sarah” is the death of Sarah! This followed immediately after akedat Yitchak, the near-sacrifice of Isaac. A Midrash suggests that she dies of grief at 127 years, thinking that the only son born in her old age had been sacrificed. Rabbis see that Sarah understands this sacrifice to be wrong and that G-d would never command such an act. She sees relationships as key to faith in G-d.
Carol Gilligan has written about the differences between men and women and notes that women have been nurturers, caretakers and helpmates to men but men have tended to devalue that care. In Genesis, Abraham seems frustrated with domestic life and looks for life in higher places. He was unjust in his dealing with the conflict between Sarah and Hagar. Perhaps with Sarah’s death Abraham learns to “live Sarah’s life”…not on a mountaintop, or arguing with G-d, but in the midst of his family. He is able to become a person showing daily kindness and recognizing what truly makes life holy.
With Sarah’s death, he purchases a burial place from Ephron, the Hittite, in what is modern day Hebron. He wants to make sure it is his land. (Indeed both Abraham and Sarah are buried there.) Perhaps with the loss of Sarah, Abraham also learns that he cannot live on the Mountaintop or star gaze in his relationship with G-d. He needs to become more connected to his family. He marries Keturah and has a number of children. As he approaches old age he is concerned with finding a wife among his kinsmen for his heir, Isaac. He sends his servant with special instructions and the servant succeeds in finding Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor. Abraham’s later years find him looking for a quieter life, finding G-d in the daily experiences with his family and people. Perhaps he learned this from Sarah.
The Haftarah begins with King David ending his forty years of reign. He was old at seventy and very feeble (70 was considered old and the life span people hoped to reach at this time – because it was the perfect age). He finds that his son Adonijah doesn’t wish to wait for his death before declaring himself King. Therefore with the prophet Nathan, honoring an old promise made to Bathsheba, David decides that their son Solomon would succeed him. Family struggles have always been part of humanity.
Reflection and Discussion: 1.These early stories in Genesis present the struggles of very ordinary as well as extraordinary people in their relationships with their G-d. In what ways do you witness or experience similar situations in relational struggles facing people today? 2. Can you recall a “mountaintop” experience in your journey with G-d? If so, what has followed that experience? If not, how does G-d connect with you or you with G-d in the valleys of life?
Bibliography: Goldstein, Rabbi Elyse Ed. The Women’s Torah Commentary: Chaye Sarah – Rabbi Rona Shapiro, pp. 70-74 (Vermont: 2008); Plaut, Gunter W. The Haftarah Commentary (New York: 1996) pp 44-51.
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Mary Louise Chesley-Cora, Delaware, USA, Bat Kol Alumna 2001