Parashat Chayei Sarah – Erev Shabbat 29 October 2021 (5782)
Week of 24-30 October 2021
Torah portion: Genesis 23:1-25:18 Haftarah: 1 Kings 1:1-31
Theme: Women in our stories
Chayei Sarah is the only parashah that bears the name of a female Biblical character, Sarah. This unusual name and beginning encouraged me to read this week’s passage focusing on women. It is particularly appropriate because women are, as the name of the parashah suggests, nurturers of life (chayim) in this world. And even though this parashah starts with Sarah’s death, it is through the women in the subsequent generations that Sarah continues to live (chaya), too.
The longest section in today’s text is the story of how a wife was chosen for Isaac (Gen. 24). It is a beautiful story involving camels, a long journey, a well, rich gifts but above all a miraculous coincidence: divine providence that brings together the right people at the right time. This story features a surprising number of women despite the spotlight falling on the words and actions of men.
First of all, we learn about the main character, Rebekah, herself. She is a young girl who provides her family with fresh water daily, who is not afraid to talk to strangers and make big decisions. The story includes another woman who is mentioned by name, Milcah, Abraham, and Sarah’s sister-in-law (See Gen. 11:29). Rebekah is identified as Milcah’s granddaughter; her identity is tied up with the women of her family. Interestingly, after talking to Abraham’s servant, Rebekah runs to her mother’s and not to her father’s household to deliver the news (24:28). Her mother also took an active part in the negotiations on the marriage arrangements between Rebekah’s family and Abraham’s servant (24:53, 55). They are all strong women who are deeply involved with what is happening to them and their families.
We never learn the name of Rebekah’s mother, but she is not the only unnamed woman without whom the story would not have happened. There are the daughters of the townsmen who come every evening to the well outside the city to draw water and do not get recognized. There are also Rebekah’s maids, and nurse who leave their own homes to accompany their lady to a foreign country for her wedding and new life, with no promises for themselves (24:59, 61). There are also Abraham’s female slaves, the daughters of the Canaanites, and thousands of other women in the background who make up the stories of the select few.
But today’s parashah celebrates two of the select ones, Sarah and the one who steps into Sarah’s tent and makes it her own (24:67) thus continuing chayei Sarah. Today we are also encouraged to celebrate women in our stories and our lives who are taking an active role in shaping their own lives and the lives of the people around them.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What do we learn about Rebekah’s character from her actions in verses 18-20? 2. What similarities and differences do you see between Sarah and Rebekah? (Questions taken from The Torah: A Women’s Commentary study guide, see https://www.wrj.org/sites/default/files/WTC Study – Chayei Sarah – new.pdf ) 3. Reflect on women who have played an active role in your life, those you know, and those whose names you do not know.
Bibliography: The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary: Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Bereshit/ Genesis. (New York: 1999)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Rota Stone, New Zealand, Bat Kol Alumna: 2002, 2003