FROM THE TORAH
The overarching theme of Sedra Chaye Sarah is the transition from the first generation, that of Abraham and Sarah, to the generation of Isaac and Rebecca. The extraordinary significance of Isaac’s life, demonstrated through the narrative of the preceding Sedra Vayera, is threaded into a transcendent marital partnership with his intended, Rebecca. Isaac’s mother, Sarah, though deceased, is a silent living presence, as is his living father Abraham, acting through the agency of a trusted servant. Sedra Chaye Sarah also continues the parallel messages of this family as covenantally distinguished from others while also a source of blessing for all.
Isaac and Rebecca, Successors of Abraham and Sarah
DEATH AND BURIAL OF SARAH
The years of the life of Sarah (Chaye Sarah) were 100 years and 20 years and 7 years. Sarah died at Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.
When Abraham arises from his dead, he speaks to the children of Heth: I am a resident alien with you; allow me the acquisition of a burial place with you, so that I may remove my dead from before me for burial. The children of Heth, addressing Abraham as “my lord, prince of God,” offer their own burial sites. Abraham rises, then bows low to the people of the land, children of Heth. He requests that they intercede for him with Ephron son of Tsochar to transmit to him for full value the Cave of Machpelah at the border of his land, as the acquisition of a burial site in their midst.
Ephron the Hittite, sitting amidst the children of Heth, responds in their hearing, and publicly to all entering the gate of his city, that he would gladly give the cave, and the field in which it is located, to Abraham, in the sight of his kinsmen, for Abraham to bury his dead. But Abraham, bowing low again before the people of the land, insists in their hearing that he would pay Ephron the price of the land, and then he would bury his dead there. Ephron sets the price with these words in the hearing of the children of Heth: “Listen, my lord, what is a land worth 400 pieces of silver between me and you? Bury your dead!” Hearing this, Abraham pays Ephron his price of 400 pieces of silver through the broker. He thereby acquires the field of Ephron in Machpelah, near Mamre, including the cave and all of the trees within its border, in the sight of the children of Heth, and publicly to all entering the gate of his city. Then Abraham buries Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which he acquired as a possession for burial from the children of Heth.
ABRAHAM ASSIGNS HIS CHIEF SERVANT TO FIND A WIFE FOR HIS SON
Abraham was old, advanced in years, and the Eternal blessed Abraham “in everything” (24:1). Abraham bids the chief servant of his household, “place your hand under my thigh” (24:1), and swear by the Eternal, God of heaven and earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanite, in whose midst I dwell. Rather, go to my native land to take a wife for him. What if the woman does not want to follow him to this land? asks the servant. Abraham exhorts him not, under any circumstances, to “return” his son to his native land. The Eternal, the God of heaven, took me from my father’s house, from my native land, and promised me that He would give this land to my offspring. So He will send His angel before you to take a wife for my son from there. If the woman does not wish to come with you, then you are free from your oath to me. Abraham’s servant duly swears the oath.
The servant takes ten of his master’s camels, along with his master’s bounty, to Aram Naharaim, to the city of Nachor (cf. 22:20-23). He makes the camels kneel at the well of water outside of the city, in the time of evening when the women come out to draw water. There he petitions the Eternal, God of his master Abraham, for a sign of kindness for his master: that the maiden whom he asks to lower her jar to allow him to drink some water will offer both him and his camels water to drink—may You thereby be indicating her for Your servant Isaac, and thereby shall I know that You have provided kindness to my master.
Before he completes his petition, Rebecca emerges. She was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, wife of Nachor, brother of Abraham (cf. 22:20-23). She was very pleasing of appearance, a young woman whom no man had known. With her jar on her shoulder, she goes down to the well, fills her jar, and comes up. Running towards her, the servant requests a sip of water from her jar. She bids him drink and quickly lowers her jar upon her hand to let him drink. Then she offers to water his camels, whereupon she empties her jar into the trough and returns to the well to draw water for the rest of his camels.
The man wonders silently whether or not the Eternal has granted him success. When the camels finish drinking, he gives her a gold ornament weighing a half-shekel and places upon her arms two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. Whose daughter are you? he asks. Is there room for lodging in your father’s house? She discloses her family line back to Nachor and assures the man of straw and fodder, and room to lodge. The man bows low to the Eternal: “Blessed is the Eternal, God of my master Abraham, who has not withheld His lovingkindness or His truth from my master, and who has guided me on the path to the home of my master’s kin.”
GUESTS OF REBECCA’S FAMILY
The woman hastens to her mother’s house and reports all of these things. Her brother Laban, seeing the ornaments upon his sister and hearing her report, runs outside to the man, who is still standing with camels at the well. Come, O blessed of the Eternal, says Laban, why should you remain outside? I have cleared the house and made room for the camels! The man comes in and unloads the camels. The camels are fed. He and the men with him are provided water to wash their feet and food to eat.
But he refuses to eat until he delivers the purpose of his mission: I am the servant of Abraham. The Eternal has blessed my master exceedingly with flocks and herds, silver and gold, servants and camels and asses. His wife Sarah gave birth to a son in her old age, and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear: Do not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan, in which I dwell, but from my father’s house. When I said to my master that perhaps the woman would not want to come with me, he assured me: The Eternal, whom I have followed, will send his angel with you to assure your success. But if you go to my family and they do not grant your request, you shall be free from your oath to me.
So today I have come to the well. I have said to the Eternal, the God of my master Abraham: If You would fulfill my quest, then let the young woman, who emerges to draw water, and of whom I request a little water from her jar, and who grants my request and offers to draw for the camels, be the one whom the Eternal has promised for the son of my master. Before I finished my prayer, Rebecca emerged with her jar upon her shoulder. She went down to the well and drew. She quickly took down her jar and granted my request for water and offered to water the camels as well. So I drank, as did the camels. When, at my request, she identified her family, I placed this ring upon her nose and these bracelets upon her arms.
I bowed down to the Eternal and blessed the God of my master Abraham for leading me on the right path to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son. Now, please tell me if you will respond in kindness and truth to my master, or, if not, I shall turn back.
LABAN AND BETHUEL AGREE
Both Laban and Bethuel acknowledge that this has been determined by the Eternal, that it is not for them to call it bad or good, that the servant should take Rebecca to become the wife of his master’s son. In response to these words, the servant bows low to the Eternal. He gives gifts of silver and gold and garments to Rebecca, and gifts to her brother and mother. He and the men with him eat and drink and spend the night there. In the morning the servant begs leave, but her brother and mother insist that the young woman remain with them for as many as ten days. The servant objects to any delay. Her family puts the decision to her: Will you go with this man? She responds: I will. So they send off their sister Rebecca, her nurse, Abraham’s servant, and his men, with these words of blessing:
may you become
thousands of myriads,
and may your offspring
possess the gate of their enemies.”
Rebecca and her maids mount their camels and follow the man. The servant takes Rebecca and leaves.
ISAAC AND REBECCA MEET
As Isaac was settled in the land of the Negev (cf. 20:1), he was returning from Be’er Lachai Roi (cf. 16:14). Isaac goes out to walk about in the field at the approach of evening. Raising his eyes, he sees camels approaching. When Rebecca raises her eyes, she sees Isaac and alights from her camel. She asks the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field toward us?” “That is my master,” says the servant. Thereupon she covers herself with her veil. The servant tells Isaac all that has transpired. Then Isaac brings her into the tent of Sarah his mother. He takes Rebecca to be his wife. Isaac loves her and is comforted after his mother.
Abraham remarries. He takes a woman named Keturah as his wife. These are their descendants:
2nd Generation: Zimran, Yokshan, Medan, Midian, Yishbek, and Shuach
3rd Generation: Yokshan begat Sheba and Dedan. The children of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Enoch, Avidah, and Elda’ah.
4th Generation: The children of Dedan were Asshurites, Letushites and Leummites.
ESTATE OF ABRAHAM
Abraham gives all of his property to Isaac.
Abraham gives gifts to the children of his concubines and sends them away from Isaac his son, eastward, to the Land of the East.
DEATH AND BURIAL OF ABRAHAM
Abraham lives for 175 years. He dies in good old age, old and contented, and is gathered to his kin. Isaac and Ishmael his sons bury him in the Cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Tsochar the Hittite, which faces Mamre. This is the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth (cf. 23:3-20). Both Abraham and Sarah were buried there.
SETTLEMENT OF ISAAC
After the death of Abraham, God blesses Isaac his son. Isaac settles near Be’er Lachai Roi.
ISHMAEL AND HIS DESCENDANTS
These are the descendants of Ishmael, whom Hagar the Egyptian, handmaiden of Sarah, bore to Abraham: First-born Nevayot, Kedar, Adbe’el, Mivsham, Mishmah, Dumah, Massah, Hadad, Teymah, Yetur, Naphish, and Kedmah—twelve princes of their respective tribes, their names associated with their respective settlements. They dwelled from Havilah as far as Shur, which faces Egypt, as you come to Asshur, lying alongside all of his kinsmen.
Ishmael lives 137 years. He dies and is gathered to his kin.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Chaye Sarah
I Kings 1:1-31
Solomon, Successor of David
When King David was old, advanced in years, he needed extra clothing to keep warm. So, with his permission, his servants find a beautiful young woman, Avishag the Shunammite, to be his personal companion, to lie with him. However, the king “did not know her.”
Adoniyah son of Haggith asserts himself to be the next king by parading around with chariots, horsemen, and fifty advance runners. His father had not disciplined him ever, and he was quite handsome. He was born after Avshalom. [He was David’s fourth sun (cf. II Samuel 3:4) but apparently the eldest surviving son, after Amnon (cf. II Samuel 13:28-29), Chileav (cf. II Samuel 3:3) or Daniel (cf. I Chronicles 3:1), and Avshalom (cf. II Samuel 18:15).] Adoniyah is in league with Joab son of Tseruyah [David’s general and brother-in-law (cf. I Chronicles 2:16)] and Abiathar the priest (cf. I Samuel 22:20). However, other counselors of David—Zadok the [high] priest, Benaiah son of Jehoiada [head of David’s bodyguard (cf. II Samuel 8:18 and I Chronicles 18:17)], Nathan the prophet (cf. II Samuel 12:1ff.), Shimei, Rei, and other warriors of David (cf. II Samuel 23:8-39 and I Chronicles 11:10-47)—do not join with Adoniyah.
Adoniyah slaughters flocks and herds and other sacrificial animals at the Stone of Zochelet, near the Well of Rogel, inviting all of his fellow sons of the king and all of the men of Judah, servants of the king. But he specifically does not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah, nor the warriors, nor Solomon his brother, and David apparently did not know this.
So Nathan urges Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, to tell King David about Adoniyahu’s assertion. “Save your life and the life of your son Solomon!” he says. Tell David: “Did you not promise your handmaid that Solomon your son ‘would rule after me and would sit upon my throne?’” Then I, says Nathan, will enter after you to confirm your words.
Bathsheba enters the chamber of David, where Avishag the Shunammite is caring for the elderly king, bows low, and, with the king’s permission, proceeds to deliver those words to David. “But this, my lord king, you did not know: Adoniyah is sacrificing multitudes and is inviting all of the king’s sons and Abiathar the priest and Joab commander of the army, but Solomon your servant he has not invited! The eyes of all of Israel are upon you, my lord king, to tell them who will sit upon the throne of my lord king after him. Otherwise, when my lord king lies with his fathers, I and my son Solomon shall be deemed outlaws!”
As she was speaking to the king, Nathan the prophet is announced and enters. He bows before the king with his face to the ground, and he asks the king straightaway, “Did you say, ‘Adoniyahu shall reign after me and shall sit upon my throne?’” Nathan continues to describe to David the apparent usurpation by Adoniyah which Bathsheba has just recounted to him, adding, “And they are saying, ‘Long live King Adoniyahu!’” Is this event the devising of my lord the king and you did not inform your servant who shall sit upon his throne after him?
Thereupon David sends for Bathsheba, who enters and stands before him. The king proclaims an oath: As lives the Eternal, who has redeemed my soul from all distress, as I promised you by the Eternal, the God of Israel, that Solomon your son would rule after me, and that he would sit upon my throne after me, so will I do this day! Bathsheba bows with her face to the ground, prostrates herself before the king, and says, “May my lord, King David, live for ever!”
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Genesis Rabbah 58:1
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 11a
The Years of Sarah
“The years of the life of Sarah were 100 years and 20 years and 7 years.”
“The Eternal knows the days of the whole (the righteous),
and such shall be their portion for ever.”
Just as the righteous are whole, so are their years viewed as wholes. Sarah’s years were summed up not simply as 127 but divided into whole components of years. This was taught through Moses:
“I am 120 years old today…”
What did Moses mean by “today?” He was expressing through the apparently superfluous word “today” that he lived a whole number of years to the day, in order to establish the Talmudic teaching: The Holy One, blessed be He, fills out the years of the righteous from month to month and from day to day, as was said, “I shall fill out (to a whole) the number of your days” (Exodus 23:26)!
In addition, why does Scripture depart here from its usual way of disclosing the age of a great person by arranging the components in diminishing order? To teach us that Sarah at the age of 100 was as free of sin as she was at the age of 20, and at the age of 20 was as beautifully pure as she was at the age of 7.
Genesis Rabbah 58:3
Sarah and Esther
“The years of the life of Sarah were 100 years and 20 years and 7 years.”
“Ahasuerus ruled…over 7 and 20 and 100 provinces.”
Rabbi Akiba was lecturing, and his congregation was dozing off. Seeking to wake them up, he asked: How was Esther worthy of ruling over 7 and 20 and 100 provinces? She was the descendant of Sarah, who lived for “100 years and 20 years and 7 years!”
Genesis Rabbah 58:4
”Sarah dies at Kiryat Arba…”
Kiryat Arba, “City of Four,” because four righteous men, fathers of the world, were buried there (in Machpelah): Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Alternatively, because four matriarchs were buried there: Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. [Rachel died on the way from Paddan to Ephrath and was buried there, in Ramah (cf. Genesis 48:7 and Jeremiah 31:14).]
Genesis Rabbah 58:5
Familial Burden of Abraham
“Abraham comes to mourn for Sarah…”
Whence did he come? Rabbi Levi said: He came from the burial of his father Terach to the burial of his wife Sarah. But Rabbi Yose challenged him: Didn’t the burial of Terach precede the burial of Sarah by two years? Rather, whence did he come? He came from Mount Moriah, where Abraham bound Isaac as a sacrifice, as Sarah died from its pain; hence, the notice of Sarah’s death (23:1-2) follows immediately upon the Mount Moriah narrative (22:1-19).
Genesis Rabbah 58:6
Status of the Mourner
“When Abraham arises from his dead,
Rabbi Yochanan taught: From where do we learn that one whose dead lies before him is exempt from reciting (speaking) the Shema and the Tefillah, from putting on Tefillin, and from all of the (positive) commandments that are in the Torah? From the words “arises from his dead,” which implies the conclusion of burial as necessary for the resumption of speaking the words that constitute those commandments!
Genesis Rabbah 58:9
Lovingkindness, Occupation of God and Abraham
“Abraham was old, advanced in years…”
If Abraham was “advanced in years,”
what need was there to say he was “old?”
Said Rabbi Samuel bar Isaac: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: My occupation is to bestow deeds of lovingkindness. You have adopted the same occupation for yourself. So come and place on yourself My own garb: Now “Abraham was old!”
Genesis Rabbah 59:6
When Old Age is a Blessing
“Abraham was old, advanced in years…”
Said Rabbi Acha: There are those who age before their time, and there are those who live many days but fail to acquire the honor of old age. Abraham’s old age matched his many years, and as that match is a blessing, the verse continues: “…and the Eternal blessed Abraham in everything (in all of his many years)” (24:1b)!
Genesis Rabbah 59:8
Preference of Nativity
“Rather, go to my native land,
and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
Said Rabbi Isaac: Sow wheat from your own city, even if it is of low quality.
Talmud Berachot 26b
Genesis Rabbah 60:14
Isaac Ordains Mincha
“Isaac goes out to walk about in the field
at the approach of evening…”
The Hebrew word suach, translated “to walk about,” can also mean “to talk”. But then, to what mortal was Isaac talking, alone in the field? “A prayer of the afflicted, when he is faint, and to the Eternal he pours out his ‘talk’ [sicho]” (Psalms 102:1). So Isaac initiated the prayer for pouring out our talk at that time of the day, “at the approach of evening,” the Tefillah of Mincha. “Evening, morning and noon, I ‘talk’ [asicha] and I murmur, and He hears my voice!” (Psalms 55:18)
Genesis Rabbah 60:16
Rebecca, Worthy Successor of Sarah
“Isaac took her into the tent
of Sarah his mother…”
All of the days that Sarah lived, the entrance of her tent was protected by a divine cloud and open to all, the dough that she kneaded was blessed, and her home was illuminated from one Sabbath night to the next. But when she died, the cloud departed, the openness was gone, the dough lost its blessing, and the light that illuminated her home was extinguished. Then Rebecca entered: the divine cloud returned, the openness was resumed, the dough was once again blessed, and a light burned from one Sabbath night to the next.
When Isaac saw that Rebecca undertook the separation of challah and of all of the dough with the same purity as had his mother, then he “took her into the tent of Sarah his mother.”
Only after that: “Abraham remarries. He takes a woman named Keturah as his wife.” (25:1)
Genesis Rabbah 61:6
The Master’s Blessing
“Abraham gives all of his property to Isaac” (25:5),
“Abraham gave gifts to the children of his concubines…” (25:6)!
This may be likened to a king who possessed an orchard, which he entrusted to a tenant. In it were two trees intertwined one with the other. One of the trees produced life-giving fruit, but the other, alas, deadly poison. The tenant was left to consider his dilemma: If I water the tree of life-giving fruit, the tree of deadly poison will benefit from the water alongside it. And if I do not water the tree of deadly poison, how will the tree of life-giving fruit survive? But then he reconsidered: I, a tenant, practice my tenancy; however the master may choose to dispose of his resources, so will he do!
Such was Abraham’s thinking: It is forbidden to treat one child differently from the other, lest by giving more to one I sow envy and discord among my children. But then in order to provide Isaac with his blessing, I must include as well the children of Ishmael and the children of Keturah! And if I do not so bless the children of Ishmael and the children of Keturah, how will I provide blessing for Isaac? Then he reconsidered: I am but flesh and blood. I am here today and in the grave tomorrow. I have already done what I can do. From this point going forward, whatever the Holy One, blessed be He, wants to do with His world, He will do. And so it was, “After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son.” (25:11)
Genesis Rabbah 62:2
Knowing the Time
“Abraham dies in good old age, old and contented, and is gathered to his kin.”
Why is there the emphasis by repetition
of Abraham’s dying old and contented?
Rabbi Chiya Rabbah and his students—and there are those who say, Rabbi Akiba and his students—and there are those who say, Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta and his students—They were in the habit of rising early every morning to sit and study under a certain fig tree, while the grower would also rise early every morning to collect his ripened figs from the tree. Teacher and students began to think that the grower suspected them of intending to steal his figs, so they decided to move their study to another location.
The grower went to them and said: Rabbis, the mitzvah for which you allowed me the merit, to host your study under my fig tree, you have canceled! Why? We think you suspected us of intending to steal your figs, they told him, because you hastened to collect the figs early in the mornings that we assembled there for our studies. God forbid, he responded, I hasten to my tree to collect the ripened figs every morning, because if they are left on the tree when the sun shines upon them, they will be ruined by worms.
So, understanding that the grower did not suspect them of stealing, the Rabbis moved their study back to his fig tree. On that morning the grower, for his part, rose early but did not collect the figs. The sun rose upon them and they were ruined by worms. Said the Rabbis: The owner of the fig tree knows when is the time for the figs to be harvested, and duly he harvests them. So does the Holy One, blessed be He, know when it is time for the righteous to be taken from the world, and duly He takes them. Thus is written:
“My Beloved has gone down to His garden…
to harvest shoshanim.”
(Song of Songs 6:2)
Midrash Song of Songs Rabbah 2:1: Said the Congregation of Israel: “I am likened to a shoshanah among thorns” (Song of Songs 2:2), more beloved to the Holy One, blessed be He, than the other seventy nations…and I blossomed with good deeds like the shoshanah!
Mirkin Commentary: This story might have been told in the context of the Hadrianic persecution, when those caught in the teaching of Torah were arrested and killed by the Roman rulers. The scholars would have assembled well before the owner of the fig tree arose, very early in the morning, not to avoid the heat of the sun but to take advantage of the camouflage afforded by the dense cover of the fig tree. Perhaps the story was intended to assure them that if their time to die had not arrived, the hand of the enemy would not apprehend them.
Copyright © 2020 Eric H. Hoffman