This week's Torah portion is Kha'yey Sarah. It begins in the twenty third chapter of Beresheet, which reads, "Va'yihyu kha'yey Sarah me'a shana ve'esrim shana vsheva shanim... Sarah lived one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; this was the length of Sarah's life. And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her." [Gen. 23:1,2] This is the story of the end of an era -- the time of our founding matriarch. . .
That was then, this is now. It is a great time that we are living in, the end of the era of Arab-Israeli conflict or so we are being told. Yet, it is such a strange and insecure time. It is so very difficult to know if we are in the time just before "the great era of peace" or if we are being fooled and lulled into complacency and a false sense of well-being while our enemies are planning our coming destruction. I know that we all want to believe that peace has its own momentum and that once it is "launched" it will continue out of "perpetuum mobile," which is perpetual motion but that may just not be so! In a world that sees the laws of nature reexamined and found to be lacking -- how can one believe in an empirical rule for human behavior? I can tell you from my own personal experience what you probably know from yours that just when you think you have things all figured out, they turn out to be the exact opposite of what you had concluded them to be! This is true of simple, "normal" people so, how much more so for people who are not exactly "normal" or possibly what I am trying to say is that our "norm" is, in fact, the exception, and the normal is irrational and dysfunctional.
Peace with Jordan O.K., we have been expecting it since 1951. Then, in 1967 we got to see on T.V. the famous "kiss of brothers" of Nasser and King Hussein -- just before the Arab confrontation states, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, resolved to reverse the "shame of 1947" which, as we all know, brought about the Six Day war, and Israeli occupation of the Golan, Judea, Samaria, the Gaza strip and the Sinai. Dreams were shattered... New dreams replaced them. Suddenly, Israel was a power to be reckoned with -- or so we thought. We were sure that peace would soon arrive, in fact we sued for peace! The Arab nations responded with the Khartoum declaration: NO recognition of Israel, NO negotiations and NO peace! How dearly we paid for our miscalculations! The terror war waged against Jews around the world, the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur war of 73, the Lebanon wars of the 1980s.
In 1977 Anwar Saadat came to Jerusalem. We sat glued to the T.V. screens, and we spoke of "the days of Messiah." It was finally happening! Once Egypt signed a peace treaty, we reasoned, the others would fall in line to do the same... Instead, Saadat was assassinated (by Moslem true-believers), and the peace with Egypt turned colder that Siberia. Begin retired, the Palestinians began the Intifada, blood was once again being spilled in the Holy land... The Gulf war pitted Arab against Arab, showed the world that Arabs and Moslems are not committed to each others well being and Israel was the only nation that was not allowed to protect itself against Scud attacks from Iraq. The only way I can explain the fact that Israel did not suffer many casualties is by invoking Divine intervention! New elections two years ago brought Rabin and Peres to the helm of the Israeli ship of state and, as the saying goes, "the rest is history." Oslo, Rabat, Cairo, and Washington. Handshakes with people we swore we would never speak with. Now, Rabin, Peres and Arafat are recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize proof positive that politics makes strange bedfellows!
Have things changed? People talk about how Israel maliciously plowed-under the settlements in Sinai before evacuation forgetting that they only did it because that is what the Egyptians wanted. They insisted that every vestige of the Israeli presence in Sinai had to be eradicated. They got what they wanted and Israel got the bad name. On the day the peace agreement with Jordan was signed, a million Palestinian Arabs went on strike to protest the signing an action called for by Hamas, a Moslem religious movement. President Assad wants Israel to vacate and disassemble settlements on the Golan... Tomorrow it will be time to remove all settlements from Judea and Samaria -- Arafat is already making hints about it. The world has never recognized our rights to D.C. Davids capital, that is! Jerusalem, before long, will become contested territory, and the world will ask the Jews to be flexible, to compromise, to give-in... What will remain? a truncated Israel, with indefensible borders, with enemies all around welcome to the new Jewish ghetto, along the borders of the Green line -- twelve miles across at its waiste, in the most populated area of metropolitan Tel-Aviv... Waiting for the day when the Arabs are strong enough, and the Jews are weak enough Ho chi min said it... We can wait ten years, fifty years, even a hundred years but in the end we will bury you! Sarajevo, here we come?! Rabin repeats again and again, "no more war, no more killing." Yet, few remember that more Arabs were killed in Hama, Syria, than in all the wars on the Arabs against Israel. More Palestinians were kills by Jordanians in "black September" and by Syrians in Lebanon tan by Israelis in war and in the Intifada... What will it take to make them safe and how safe can we, as Jews, despised by their religious principle, ever be? As I said, I am not too sure of how safe this world is for small groups of people especially ones who speak the tongue of the prophets and who garb themselves in a prayer-shawl of Prophets ethics. No one likes a goody two shoes who preaches to the world. Conform or perish! We have been told that in Greek and in Latin, in Spanish and in Portuguese, in Ukrainian and in Lithuanian. We were spared the indignity by the German language maybe because the tongue of Goethe was also the tongue of the Jew, Heine they didnt ask us to conform just to perish. As for me, I choose to remain remain alive, remain a Jew, a son of Sarah remain on guard!
How many times have you been told not to jump to conclusions? I know that this was a lesson I was taught again and again by my parents and teachers during my childhood. Nothing is worse than a knee-jerk reaction. So often you can be proved wrong. In fact, human nature, of course, is to come to quick conclusions based on first impressions that are almost never well founded. A perfect example of this is the preconceived ideas people had about the late prime minister of Israel, Menakhem Begin. It was "common knowledge" that he would never give away even an inch of ground that Israel had in her hands. Yet, of course, it was none other than Begin who made the Camp David agreement with president Saadat of Egypt, with the attendant return of the entire Sinai Peninsula, four times the land area of Israel, to Egypt.
This week we read in the Torah the portion of Kha'yey Sarah. It begins with the twenty third chapter of Beresheet, which reads, "Va'yihyu kha'yey Sarah me'a shana ve'esrim shana vsheva shanim... Sarah lived one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; this was the length of Sarah's life. And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her." [Gen. 23:1,2] First impression: Sarah was old and she died. Second impression: This story of her demise is told right after the story of the Akeda, the binding of Yitzkhak, her son. Conclusion: there must be a connection between the two stories. The dean of commentators, Rashi, tells us that the reason for the strange account of her age is that "at one hundred she was as young and pretty as a twenty year old, and at twenty she was as sin-less and innocent as a seven year old." Then, commenting on the text, "to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her," Rashi says, "and there is a connection between the binding of Yitzkhak and the death of Sarah, by means of the fact that she was informed that her son was brought to the slaughter, and while he was on the edge of the knife her soul left her and she died."
Based on this commentary, and the conclusion we jump to, we end up thinking that Sarah was terribly upset by the fact that her son was taken and offered on the altar. We assume that she was angry with Abraham, angry enough so that he did not return from Moriah to her but rather went to live in Beer Sheva for the remainder of Sarah's life. We further attribute to Sarah an anger toward the God that would ask Abraham to take her son, the one she yearned for all the years she suffered the pain of a barren woman, a God who would not leave this child, who brought a smile to her lips and laughter to her heart in her old age, not leaving him to be with her to make her last days happy ones. "Her soul left her," says Rashi -- in the Hebrew "parkha nishmata."
Now recall, if you please, the words with which I started my dissertation, the exhortation of parents and teachers "not to jump to conclusions." Think well, think long of our matriarch Sarah -- what do we know about her? Is she not the one that Rashi himself told us was "God inspired" from early age? Is she not a perfect example for the people for who she would be the root, the progenitor? Would the words of the prophet Jeremiah not be fit for Abraham to eulogize her? "Zakharti lakh khesed ne'ura'yikh, ahavat klulota'yikh, lekhtekh akhara'y bamidbar be'eretz lo zru'a -- I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown." [Jeremiah 2:2] She is the one who willingly supported, even shielded, Abraham by telling Pharaoh that she was a sister and not a wife to her man. She was the one who told Abraham to send Yishma'el away, and even God Himself supported her in this demand. Does it make any sense to interpret her death as a sign of weakness, lack of faith, or, God forbid, apostasy?
Allow me to reverse the saying, and claim that "if the shoe does not fit -- do not wear it!" If you reach the conclusion that Sarah could not have reacted as we assumed she did, with our first impression, if you now feel that it is not a logical and acceptable reaction, lets explore other interpretations. Let us begin, this time, with the given fact that Sarah is a pious and faithful woman who raised her "kaddishle," the child that was to be her heritage and continuity to posterity -- raised him to love God and be ready to offer his life "al kiddush hashem" -- to sanctify God's name. That is what any good Jewish mother does, and what many Jewish mothers lived to witness their children do. So mother Sarah was not angry with Abraham nor with God, not at all. In fact, she was grateful to both for allowing her Yitzkhak to have this chance. Rashi tells us, in the Hebrew "parkha nishmata." What if we are not looking at the words right? What if we give them our own bias, thinking that we would die if our child was bound upon an altar. Is there, then, another meaning to the Hebrew? Indeed, there is! "Perakh" is Hebrew for flower. "Parkha," thus, is 'bloomed.'
Now we can look again at Sarah, our mother Sarah, as a good Jewish mother, who raised a child whom she taught to love his father and to worship his Father. She prepared him for nothing less than Kiddush Hashem -- offering his life for the sanctification of God's name. In years of living with Yitzkhak she made him aware of the many sacrifices her dear husband and she had to make for their faith. She told him that his time would come, too. She prepared him for the Akeda, she made sure that he would be a willing partner to his father when the time came. One fine fall day -- for we believe that the Akeda took place on Rosh Hashanah, at the time when God holds creation in judgement -- Abraham took Yitzkhak with him, and went away. He did not discuss the matter with Sarah because it was not necessary. She was God inspired, she knew intuitively, before he was called, that God would be calling him, and she lived in suspense. She knew what God wanted -- but she did not know what her husband, and her son would do!
And the word was brought to her, maybe by one of the 'boys' that was left by Abraham with the donkeys, who saw from afar how Abraham bound Yitzkhak upon the altar, and hurried to inform his mistress, thinking that she would run to stop the man from offering her son. However, much to the surprise of the messenger, what happened was that "parkha nishmata." No, she did not die! Her soul bloomed! She was filled with satisfaction that her labor had not been in vain. Her son passed the test. Now she could die in peace. Abraham went to Beer Sheva for that was the "good well," the place of his Inn, where he taught passers-by about his God. There was no split in his family. Sarah, like Abraham, heard the news that Rebecca was born, and she knew that her son's future was set. Therefore, in complete peace and faith in God's judgement, Sarah surrendered her spirit unto the God who gave it, and she died.
There are many times when things are not what they seem at first glance. We need to train ourselves and our progeny to avoid snap conclusions, to make our decisions based on close and careful examination of all the facts. Thus, and only thus, shall we find and live by the truth.
This week we read in the Torah the portion of Khayey Sarah, which means the life of Sarah. Actually, what we read is about the death of Sarah, but more than that, we read about the life of Abraham. The portion begins in the twenty third chapter of Beresheet, which reads, "Vayihyu khayey Sarah mea shana veesrim shana vsheva shanim... Sarah lived one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; this was the length of Sarahs life. And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her." [Gen. 23:1,2]
How strange it is that we do not read Abrahams eulogy for his dear wife and mother of the one by whom Abrahams progeny will be known. Instead we read about his negotiations with the people of Hebron fora piece of ground to establish a cemetery in perpetuity for him and his descendants. The reason for the report of this negotiation, according to the commentators, is that it establishes Abraham, and his descendants forever after, as landowners in the promised land. This is a very important issue for our patriarch, and he delays burying his wife to make sure that the matter is taken care of totally correctly.
The text continues by informing us, "Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed him in every way." [Gen. 24:1] Yet the next chapter tells us that Abraham married again, "Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah." [Gen. 25:1,2] The commentators tell us that it is not necessary to think that the story is told in chronological order. It is possible that Abraham married Keturah even before Sarah died. It was not reported before because it was not pertinent to the story at hand. God had told Abraham "ki veyitzkhak yikare lekha zara for in Yitzkhak shall your seed be named." [Gen 21:12] Any other children had no significance for the story of Abraham and his progeny that will continue in his covenant with God.
So, we ask, why is the story pertinent now, all of a sudden? If it was not important to tell before, why is it being told now? The answer can best be understood from the end of the portion, and also from the choice of reading from the prophets, the haftarah. The choice of this latter reading (for this week) is from the first book of Kings, the first chapter, verses 1-31. It tells of the events of the succession of Solomon to the throne of Davids kingdom. King David, Israels great and beloved sovereign, was old (when our reading begins), and he did not pay attention to what was happening in his realm. He had many sons, one of whom, Adoniyahu, took matters in his own hands and usurped the authority of the sovereign. The prophet Nathan, the priest Zadok, and Bathsheba, mother of Solomon, brought the matter up to the king and made him realize that he needs to pass the scepter and the authority to whomever he chose publicly and authoritatively, to avoid a devastating struggle for power that would follow his death. David swears that Solomon would rule after him, "And the king vowed, "As surely as the LORD lives, who has rescued me from every danger, today I decree that your son Solomon will be the next king and will sit on my throne, just as I swore to you before the LORD, the God of Israel."" [I Kings 1:29,30]
This account of the continuance of Davids line contrasts with events recounted in out Torah reading this Shabbat. "Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east." [Gen. 25:5,6] There is a very definite dissimilarity, one might even say a contrast, between Abrahams action vis-a-vis his children and his plans for his spiritual posterity and that of king David, author of the Psalms. You would have thought that David, the first king of all Israel, who established the safe kingdom free of encroachment for his people, would have a much better idea of the importance of establishing the proper tools of succession and of legitimacy of his continuing line. That is not the case. Twice in his career as king, David faces a succession challenge: Absalom tries to usurp his seat prematurely while David is still young and vibrant enough to exercise his sovereign rights; Absaloms brother, Adoniyahu, makes his play in the winter of Davids life as it turns out, also prematurely and unwisely.
Abraham is much more astute in the conduct of his leadership over his followers possibly because it is a much smaller group, possibly because what is at stake, Abrahams heritage, is not a kingdom but merely a promise from God for a relationship with his seed. This promise, the covenant that seals it, is not something one can "take to the bank" as we like to say these days. However, we must also give Abraham, and Sarah, credit for planning ahead for their perpetuity. The expulsion of Yishmael, at Sarahs behest; the dismissal of the other children before Abraham loses his faculties all help create the kind of circumstance that when "Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac" there was no question, no argument. Yishmael reconciled with his father and his brother, and came to bury Abraham when he died. He did not put in a claim for his fathers inheritance.
So the portion of the week that we read, which is named "Khayey Sarah," the life of Sarah is indeed about the life of our matriarch, which she shared with her husband, our great founding father, Abraham. Together or separately with the wife Keturah and her children, with the children of the concubines mentioned in our portion this week, Sarah and Abraham lived their lives for their purpose to conserve, preserve and immortalize the covenant of the One God, their spiritual Father. Like Him, they sought to create both order and continuity. We remember them and praise them even as we love and praise God, our ultimate Father.
This weeks portion of the Torah speaks of the death of Sarah, the first, and possibly most important matriarch of the Jewish people. Her death came fast on the heel of the events of the Akeda, the binding of Yitakhak. Some commentators say that she died of shock at the news of Abrahams departure to sacrifice her son, and of grief over the possibility of losing him. If this is true, it shows the humanity of our dear mother Sarah - but it also shows her lack of discernment, a loss of faith at the promise of God Almighty to carry the seed of Abraham through her son.
Distraught mothers have existed since Sarah, and probably even long before her. This Shabbat I want to read to you a letter I received by e.mail from a mother in Israel, and then my comments on some of the content of that letter. Here goes:
I am heavy hearted today. My body is cold and feels stiff with shock of today's terrorist attack in Khadera. I haven't recovered from the school bus attack Kfar Darom yet only two days ago. My heart is torn for this one mother whose three children were injured in the attack. Three children with severed and amputated limbs in one family. I watched the unfolding of the results of this bomb attack on the school bus and it hurts me deeply to know that even one person in this world hates someone enough to want to deliberately attack a school bus full of children. these children were on their way to school and were not on their way to rock throwing demonstrations. and yes I feel that the facts are misrepresented and the issues misrepresented and propaganda misrepresenting and that includes our side as well.
This is a small country. this is a country at war - not because we want a war but because we are not wanted. and there are many places around the world where we- are not wanted. it is not an I or me situation - it is a we situation. and yes, today I am feeling very sensitive to any kind of anti Jewish - anti Israeli feelings. I can't even say anti-Semitic as that word implies against all Semites in the middle east including the arab population.
I am a pacifist - I want a peaceful place to live. I don't want to have rocks thrown at me, or Molotov cocktails or scuds hurled at me, or people calling me names. I want to live in peace side by side whoever my neighbors are. I want my children to live in peace and grow into peace loving people. I want them to feel comfortable in their skins, in their bodies, in their life style where ever they go. I don't want my children to have to deal with shell shock, concussion blasts of heat, kidnaped friends, or have their husbands having to help young wounded children on a school bus get to hospitals in the hope that the medical doctors will have enough expertise to sew on the parts of their legs that were left dangling after the blast.
I don't want to get posts from clients whom I helped recover from a bomb blast 12 years ago, where they were severely burnt on a bus - a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the bus - and who in this last period were shot at, had their car stoned and another Molotov cocktail thrown at them.
The reports are slowly coming in and the facts of a new form of terrorism. The car bomb attack today on the Khadera bus was automated and activated by timer or by remote. There was no suicidal bomber inside.
41 people injured and 2 dead.
The feeling of people is one of desperation and terror. The older population is saying that since 1948 and the war of independence the situation in Israel has not been as horrific. The fear is of escalation beyond control and beyond hope.
40 minutes after the Khadera attack today, I sat with a couple. We talked about the attack. This is what was on their minds. This is what was on my mind. These are immigrants from north America. They came here in 1973 and survived that war. They lived through the northern bombings on the Lebanese and Syrian borders. Their daughter was involved in the bet lid bombing attack 5 years back and her boyfriend was injured there. Her other daughter is married to a man who was shot in Gaza. He was the last to be shot before Gaza was returned to the Palestinians. There is more that has happened in their lives and perhaps one day they will write up their own story.
And Ariel Sharon is standing in Zion square in Jerusalem as I write. This tragic 'episode' of rioting and fighting started following a visit of his to an Arab mosque just before the Jewish holidays. It was unnecessary for him to go there. It was a catalyst and our current tragic story unfolded. I am a little person here. I do my best to repair the damaged souls and hearts that I treat. I too, have a heavy heart and hurt and fear.
My personal story I have told you in part. amir has come back from his 14-day jail sentence. he told me his side of the story of how he ended up in shell shock and of the kidnaping of the three soldiers. when he gives me permission to tell his full story I will but for... Now he is back up north on another base and is coping well. So far there is nothing much happening on the northern border.
I worry about my daughter Naava, traveling back and forth from tel-Aviv to Jerusalem every day. My daughter Taal should be safe with my granddaughter down in the south.
I don't worry about me. But I am sad. It is all so very senseless and so very painful. There must be a better way to resolve this problem. Happiest of thanksgiving to all.
I read Fran's letter, and feel sad for her and for all the people in Israel. However, I wish someone would wake up all the people who feel as Fran does when she says, "> And Ariel Sharon is standing in Zion square in Jerusalem as I write. This tragic 'episode' of rioting and fighting started following a visit of his to an Arab mosque just before the Jewish holidays. It was unnecessary for him to go there. It was a catalyst and our current tragic story unfolded."
Must we add to the pain inflicted by our enemies with self denial and self abuse? Does Fran REALLY believe that Ariel Sharon started a riot for which the Arabs had been preparing for days before his visit, for months of teaching children to HATE Jews and believe that they will best live their lives by becoming martyrs as they defy the laws of nations and of nature, hurling stones (that can kill) at young soldiers who stand guard over babies and school children and mothers and grandparents who in other times and other places would have been herded into gas chambers by impeccably uniformed Deathhead SS men feeling about their victims even as these hate-filled Palestinian stone throwers...
I am not living in Jerusalem because I made a choice to retire from the fight - and I do not feel I have a right to make political choices for those who do live there. I will not speak ill of Barak or Netanyahu, of Sharansky or Levy. I do feel, though, that I can observe and speak about FACTS that are dictated by logic and empirical observations.
FACT: There are less that FIVE million Jews in Israel.
FACT: There are more that ONE HUNDRED million Arabs around them.
FACT: The Jews want to remain alive. Ergo the Jews want peace.
FACT: The Arabs do not hold life as an end all. A martyred death is better that a
miserable life. Ergo, the Arabs are taught to seek death in Jihad.
FACT: You make peace for peace - not for land, and not for A BALANCE OF
TERROR, nor for political concessions. You don't say, "we'll give them land, so
they will fear losing it and keep the peace..."
FACT: In May of 1967 Arabs ruled 100% of all the land area Arafat wants Israel
to hand him - and there was no peace. In fact, Egypt, Syria and Jordan prepared
to launch an attack against Israel.
FACT: On May 14, 1948, at 4:00 p.m. local time, in Tel-Aviv, David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of a state, and called on Arab nations to live in peace. There were very few Arab refugees, there was very little lost Arab property taken by the Jews. Yet, the armies of Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon attacked the new-born Jewish state, promising to drive its people into the sea.
CONCLUSION: Stop blaming Israel, any and all of its citizens, and its many supporters around the world. Open your eyes to see that it is not the SIZE of Israel that is at question, it is its VERY BEING that is challenged. If you believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, look at the emblem of the P.L.O., with its MAP OF ISRAEL as their land of Palestine. SHALOM AKHSHAV - yes, I'm for it, but whom do we make peace with? Our executioner?
Hoping to find a partner for peace and bring about this desired state of existence for our beloved state.
This week's Torah
portion is the third portion concerning the life and times of the progenitor
of the Jewish People, Father Abraham. It is interesting to note that it is called
Kha'yey Sarah - and begins with this passage: "And Sarah was a hundred
and twenty seven years old; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah
died in Kiriath-Arba; which is Hebron in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came
to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her." [Gen. 23:1,2] There is something
different and unique about this passage. Of all the founders of our people,
male and female alike, only Sarah receives this honor of "headline"
- having her demise lead a portion of Torah reading.
Lest you think that this is haphazard, this same Torah portion tells us the story of the choice of second matriarch - the one who must follow in Sarah's footsteps. The text recount how father Abraham sends "the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had" [Gen. 24:2] back to Aram of the Two Rivers to find a wife for Yitzkhak. The servant (we assume it is Eliezer, though his name is never mentioned in this text) proceeds to travel to his destination, and just before arriving there he prays to the God of Abraham: "O Lord God of my master Abraham, I beseech you, send me good speed this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water; And let it come to pass, that the girl to whom I shall say, Let down your water jar, I beg you, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give your camels drink also; let the same be she whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that you have shown kindness to my master." [Gen. 24:12-14] This is the stuff of which fairy-tales are made. You make a prayer, far fetched as it is, and lo, it comes true. Or is it?
A number of commentators over the ages have pointed out that the prayer was not fancy but a practical plan of action. First, they note that the whole scenario has a practical "safety" catch at the end. "Let the same be she whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac" - this suggests that after the "test"of the kindness of fetching water, the servant still had to secure the "pedigree" of the woman - to make sure that the match is a good one and will lead to a good marriage.
But what of the "test?"
Why does the servant propose this kind of a task to prove the woman's compatibility with his master's son?
Abraham's mission in life, and the purpose he passed on to his son, was to spread the word of God's sovereignty over all that He created, His fatherhood of mankind, and the equality of all humanity before him. This mission and purpose are best served by being kind and beneficent to all; by opening a hospitable door to the wayfarer, by freeing the oppressed and dealing kindly and honestly with all, friend and foe alike. We recall Abraham's joy in welcoming the three strangers/angels in last week's portion, and we see a fine example of it in this week's negotiations for the purchase of the field and cave of Makhpelah for a burial place for our first matriarch.
A woman who will marry Abraham's son must be his help mate and partner in a life of welcoming strangers with kindness and good humor. She must be industrious, hard working and spirited - strong and persistent to a fault. She must also be kind and gracious, good natured and tireless. Life in Canaan, at the side of Abraham's son, would not be an easy task. Therefore, only a young woman who is willing to help a stranger at the well, who is determined to give more than she is asked, and who shows initiative in helping the stranger and his entourage would be a candidate for the position of wife - and of heir to the "tent" of Sarah.
Rivkah bat Lavan, Rebekah, came down to the well. The text tells us, "And the girl was very pretty to look upon, a virgin, and no man had known her; and she went down to the well, and filled her water jar, and came up. And the servant ran to meet her, and said, Let me, I beg you, drink a little water from your water jar. And she said, Drink, my lord; and she hurried, and let down her water jar upon her hand, and gave him drink. And when she had finished giving him drink, she said, I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking. And she hurried, and emptied her water jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels." [Gen 24:16-20] The young woman was, of course, unknown to the servant. She could have been the daughter of the king or the high priest of the town, or of a lowly day worker. As per his prayer, the servant made his request, and the woman complied - above and beyond his expectations.
Commentary tells us that he expected that he would be given water, and the remainder of the water the woman was carrying would be given to the camels. However, Rivkah did much more. She went and drew water repeatedly, filling the trough to sate the thirst of the camels after the long journey. She showed tremendous industry and initiative, good will and grace. She was indeed one who possessed the qualities the servant was looking for in a wife for his master's young son. Now came the final step in the servant's choosing of the girl - inquiry into her background.
"Whose daughter are you? Tell me, I beg you. Is there room in your father's house for us to lodge in?" [Gen 24:23] The servant interrogates the woman. "And she said to him, I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor. And she said to him, We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in. And the man bowed down his head, and worshipped the Lord." [Gen. 24:24-26] Rivkah turns out to be precisely the person that the servant was destined to find for a wife for his master's son. Her reply does not surprise the servant - he does not jump for joy nor faint with surprise - he merely bows down and recognize the supreme Master of the Universe, Blessed be He. The story is not done - there is yet the encounter with the woman's family, the return trip to Canaan, and the woman's acceptance by her groom. However, all of that is mere detail of the drama of God's active hand in the choice of the second mother of the people Israel. Once again, we are left awestruck at God's grand design.
This week we read
in the Torah the portion of Kha'yey Sarah. It begins with the twenty third chapter
of Beresheet, which reads, "Va'yihyu kha'yey Sarah me'a shana ve'esrim
shana vsheva shanim... Sarah lived one hundred years and twenty years and seven
years; this was the length of Sarah's life. And Sarah died at Kir'yat-arba (that
is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and
to weep for her." [Gen. 23:1,2] Many of us have been through the experience
of losing a dear relative. Grandparents, parents, and maybe a husband or a wife.
You know how very devastating it is to "go in and mourn" for our dear
A good number of years ago there was a television news expose on the high cost of dying. An investigation brought out some sad facts of how unscrupulous business people, many with connection to organized crime, had created a situation that took advantage of hurting people at the worst possible moment in their grief and bereavement. Costs of grave sites, coffins, services and preparations for interment of the last remains of the dearly departed were inflated way beyond anything approaching reason. In fact, many times the grieving relatives did not even know what expenses they were "signing up" for.
As a result of this particular expose, and the scandal that followed, new laws were passed that regulated the undertaking business. Fees had to be explained and a statement rendered before the funeral. Choices of caskets and services had to be suggested to keep the cost down. Still, the matter is not fully resolved, and stress is piled on top of grief.
Well - things were no different in the days of our patriarch Abraham. We read in the text that Abraham said to the men of Hebron: "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you; give me possession of a burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight." [Gen. 23:4] This was the beginning of negotiations. They replied that he could have any grave site he wished. Again he spoke, "If your mind is that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar. That he may give me the cave of Makhpelah, which he has, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me as a possession of a burying place amongst you." [ibid. 23:8,9]
The negotiations proceed, and they are very much like the television expose. It starts with Ephron son of Zohar offering the site for free. Of course, he does not mean it - abraham knows the procedure and continues to insist on paying. Ephron then asks for four hundred measures of silver, and when the deal is struck proceeds to ask for "four hundred shekels of silver, current money among the merchants."
We know that the proceedings were not done right by one little "hint" in the Hebrew text. Throughout the story of the negotiation the text spells out Ephron's name "Ayin," "Fey," "Resh," "Vav" and "Nun." However, in the conclusion, where we read, "and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, current money among the merchants" [ibid. 23:16] the name of Ephron is spelled "Ayin," "Fey," "Resh" and "Nun" without a vav! This spelling of Ephron without a vav appears twice more, in reference to the burial plot.
What is so special about this missing vav? Maybe it is just a little peculiarity or maybe it is a message about the "bad-faith" deal of this Hitite man with Abraham. Consider: Ephron, with the vav, is just a name. Without the vav, it assumes the same spelling as when a noun is created out of a verb root. Milk is "khalav," and a milkman "khalban." A lie is "sheker," and a lier "shakran." "Aphar" is the word for "dust"or "clay" and by connotation, "mud" and "dirt."
So what do you think "Ayin," "Fey," "Resh" and "Nun" would mean, if read "Afran?" It would mean "dirt-bag" or "mud-man!" Abraham took the insulting treatment without batting an eye to keep the peace and bury his dead. However, he did not forget, nor forgive. The message of the taking advantage of a man when he is most vulnerable was left from age to age, from generation to generation, as a silent warning: watch out for bad dealings from the men of Hebron.
Jews have lived in Hebron ever since the purchase of the Cave of Makhpelah - with the exception of the years 1929 to 1967. Long before there was a Zionist state, or "occupied territories," or Arab refugees, the Arab inhabitants of Hebron and its neighboring villages practiced the craft of Jew-killing. The most notable events were the massacre of some sixty Jews, men, women and children, in 1929 and the attack on the four villages of the Etzion block and the massacre of all but four of the defenders of the largest village, Kfar Etzion.
Abraham and Sarah, Yitzkhak and Rivka, Ya'akov and Leah are all buried in Hebron. Leah's sister, Rakhel, is buried some ten miles north, at the enterance to Bethlehem, birthplace of David, the shepherd boy who became king of all Israel, author of the Psalms, sovereign of Jerusalem. We have been forcibly removed from the hills of Judea and Hebron many times but the hills have been a part of us, never to be forgotten. Dishonesty and wickedness forfeited the right of the ancient dwellers of Canaan and it became the land of our ancestors, the promise of God for all the future generations of our people.
Kha'yey Sara 5764
This week we read in the Torah the portion of Kha'yey Sarah. It begins with the twenty third chapter of Beresheet, which reads, "Va'yihyu kha'yey Sarah me'a shana ve'esrim shana vsheva shanim... Sarah lived one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; this was the length of Sarah's life. And Sarah died at Kir'yat-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her." [Gen. 23:1,2]
Immediately after this information about the death of the first matriarch of the Jewish people, we read, as you would expect, that her husband of many years, Abraham came to mourn for her. And the text informs us of his negotiations to purchase a burial plot: "Ger v'toshav anokhi imakhem I am a stranger and a sojourner with you; give me possession of a burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight." [Ibid 23:4] This is a very strange and perplexing statement that Father Abraham makes and yet one that described the "Jewish condition" for more than two thousand years of our history.
"A stranger and a sojourner " seemingly a contradiction in terms. The Hebrew "ger v'toshav " is even more puzzling. "Ger" is the word for one who joins the family of Judaism a convert, a newcomer, if you please. "Toshav" is the word for resident' or one who is well established. Thus, one came say that the two terms are opposites of one another. How can one be both? However, what seems logically contradictory is sometimes what one finds existing in "the real world."
I have been away from the congregation for one shabbat and the two weeks that passed from Lekh-Lekha to this shabbat of Kha'yey Sarah. During this time away from you I have traveled far, spending a week in my homeland, Israel, and three days in Bulgaria. It was in Bulgaria that I saw the contradiction of Abraham demonstrated clearly in the facts of life.
Bulgaria is a mountainous country in the middle of the Balkans. At the beginning of the twentieth century, some fifty thousand Jews lived there, almost all of them Sepharadim who had lived there since the Spanish Inquisition made life in the Iberian peninsula first difficult and later impossible. The Jews were welcomed in Bulgaria and given fair treatment by the government and by the people. The most amazing thing happened during the second world war. There was a fascist government in the land, and it cooperated and collaborated with the Nazis with one exception. When they were asked by Germany to collect their Jews and ship them off to "resettlement" in the death camps, they responded with the claim, "there are no Jews in Bulgaria only Bulgarians!"
Thus, Bulgarian Jewry came out of the second world war with the same number that it had before the war. Alone in all of Europe, more resolute even than the Danes who transferred their Jews to Sweden for safety, the Bulgarian people and their government chose to protect their citizens of the Jewish faith. It is very interesting to contemplate this behavior in relation to the passage in the Torah this week: here was a small group of people, refugees from another land where they were persecuted by the state and the church, arrived in this land that had a national identity of hundreds of years and yet was not averse to accepting the tempest tossed remnant, opening their land and their hearts to them. The Jews, as in the days of Abraham, found themselves "ger v'toshav" both strangers and newly settled inhabitants in this land. They came to know the land and its people and they became a part of them, even as they kept themselves slightly apart as a Jewish community in a land that had a Christian majority and a large Moslem minority.
Sepharadic Jews were imbued with a yearning for a return to Zion from the time of their residence in the Iberian peninsula. Yehuda Halevi (1080-1141), one of the great Sepharadic poets, wrote a poem, one of whose lines read, "libi bamizrakh, v'anokhi bsof ma'arav my heart is in the East (Jerusalem), and I am at the end of the west..." Bulgarian Jews had a thirst to return to their roots, to the Promised Land of ancient glory. When the State of Israel came into being, they arose, almost as one, to leave their adoptive and adopting homeland and move to where their heart was.
Forty-five thousand Jews moved from Sophia and other towns in Bulgaria to Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and other towns in Israel. That is ninety percent of Bulgarian Jewry leaving the land where they made a home for some five hundred years. When these Jews came to the border, they descended their trains, stood facing their former habitation, and with tears in their eyes at the thought of leaving, sang the Bulgarian national anthem one land time. Then they turned around, to face their destination, and with love in their heart sang "Hatikvah," the Song of Hope, the Jewish national hymn. Only some five thousand Jews remained in the heart of the Balkans.
This small group of Jews was stuck in a country that turn communistic and whose economy went nowhere for close to half a century. We went there, members of a mission of the Jewish federation of Jacksonville, because we have undertaken to help this community. We found a wonderful group of Jews dedicated to maintaining a Jewish community and raising new generations of Jews. After the fall of communism, the Jews reclaimed their old synagogue, the largest in the Balkans, as well as other buildings belonging to the community before the war. They established a Hebrew school, a community center, and other communal organization. Because of the failure of communism, the community is very poor and struggling to provide help for young and old alike. The JDC, the Lauder foundation, and ORT have done a great job in providing education and extra curricular activities to the young, and help with dignity to the old.
The Jewish community in Bulgaria is growing, thanks to the indomitable spirit of a people who are at one and the same time "ger v'toshav stranger and a sojourner" in a land where they found shelter and respite from the storm that raged around them. We shall continue to keep them in our heart, in our prayers, and among the people who deserve a helping hand.
Khayey Sarah 5765
This week we read in the Torah the
third portion that deals with the life and times of the progenitor of the Jewish
People, Father Abraham – Genesis 23:1 to 25:18. The portion is called
Kha’yey Sarah, which means ‘the life of Sarah’ - and begins
with this passage: “And Sarah was a hundred and twenty and seven years
old; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriath-Arba;
which is Hebron in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah,
and to weep for her.” [Gen. 23:1,2] There is something different and unique
about this passage. Of all the founders of our people, male and female alike,
only Sarah receives this honor of having her demise ‘lead’ or ‘open’
a portion of Torah.
After telling us about the death and disposition of the remains of the first Matriarch, our portion continues with the same general topic, and tells us the story of the choice of second matriarch - the one who is going to follow in Sarah’s footsteps. The text narrates that father Abraham sends “the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had” [Gen. 24:2] back to Aram-of-the-Two-Rivers to find a wife for Yitzkhak. We assume that the servant is Eliezer, though his name is never mentioned in this text. He proceeds to travel to his destination, and just before arriving there he prays to the God of Abraham: “O Lord God of my master Abraham, I beseech you, send me good speed this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water; And let it come to pass, that the girl to whom I shall say, Let down your water jar, I beg you, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give your camels drink also; let the same be she whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that you have shown kindness to my master.” [Gen. 24:12-14] This is the stuff of which fairy-tales are made. You make a prayer, far fetched as it is, and lo, it comes true.
The same scenario is repeated as events take place, and we read, “And the girl was very pretty to look upon, a virgin, and no man had known her; and she went down to the well, and filled her water jar, and came up. And the servant ran to meet her, and said, Let me, I beg you, drink a little water from your water jar. And she said, Drink, my lord; and she hurried, and let down her water jar upon her hand, and gave him drink. And when she had finished giving him drink, she said, I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking. And she hurried, and emptied her water jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels. And the man wondering at her held his peace, to see whether the Lord had made his journey successful or not. And it came to pass, as the camels finished drinking, that the man took a golden ear ring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold;” [Ibid. 24:16-22] Now that sounds more like wish-fulfillment than an event that happens without connection to the words of the man’s prayer.
We hear the same story repeated a third time, “And I came this day to the well, and said, O Lord God of my master Abraham, if now you do prosper my way which I go; Behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that when the girl comes forth to draw water, and I say to her, Give me, I beg you, a little water from your water jar to drink; And she says to me, Both drink you, and I will also draw for your camels; let the same be the woman whom the Lord has appointed out for my master’s son. And before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came forth with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the well, and drew water; and I said to her, Let me drink, I beg you. And she hurried, and let down her water jar from her shoulder, and said, Drink, and I will give your camels drink also; so I drank, and she made the camels drink also. And I asked her, and said, Whose daughter are you? And she said, The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him; and I put the ear ring on her face, and the bracelets on her hands. And I bowed down my head, and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the right way to take my master’s brother’s daughter to his son.” [Ibid. 24:42-48]
The role of the matriarchs in our history and our development is every bit as important as that of our fathers. Sarah had beauty and grace, wisdom and divine inspiration. Rebecca came from a far off place to share the difficult and even dangerous life of father Yitzkhak – to be his helpmate and partner. Sarah discerned that keeping Yishma’el in Abraham’s tents would not be conducive to the continuity of Abraham’s covenant with God; Rebecca was destined to make an even more difficult choice between her twins, the oldest one of whom was not fit to continue the line of his father and grandfather.
Rebecca was, indeed, an “answer to prayer.” Not only did she fulfill all the requirements placed upon the woman who shall appear to Abraham’s servant so that he will know that she is “the one” whom he came to fetch for his master’s son – she was also brave enough to grab the chance to be part of Abraham’s family adventure, by answering the call, accepting the challenge, and leaving her land, her birth-place and her father’s house to become a member of the Covenant people.
In closing, let me point out to you the closing words of the story: “And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant, and his men. And they blessed Rebekah, and said to her, You are our sister, be you the mother of thousands of ten thousands, and let your seed possess the gate of those who hate them.” [Ibid 24:59,60] This blessing uttered by Laban and his mother is used to this day as the blessing of the bride after the ketubbah (marriage contract) is signed and before the marriage ceremony itself takes place. God’s blessing upon the enterprise of His servant Abraham is proof of God’s protection and care for all who live by that covenant.
Return Home or to Offering