Chayei Sarah (The Life of Sarah)

Chayei SarahGenesis 23:1 to 25:18

After the near-sacrifice of Isaac and the death of Isaac’s mother Sarah, Abraham decides it is time to find a wife for Isaac. Abraham’s servant is sent to back to the homeland of Abraham and Sarah to find the ideal bride.

The title of the parsha is “The Life of Sarah;” but, we learn of Sarah’s death in the text’s first sentence. This is followed by 17 verses dealing with Sarah’s burial in the land that will become the future homeland of Israel. Even though not stated in Torah, several Midrash stories connect Sarah’s death to her learning of the attempted sacrifice of Isaac. In some of the stories she believes her son had actually been killed.

At the close of the last parsha Isaac survives the Akedah, or near-sacrifice, by his father Abraham. Nothing is said about the mental or physical state of Isaac following his near-death experience, we can only assume that he is extremely troubled. The text tells us that Abraham leaves this event and travels to Beersheba by himself. (Gen. 22:19) Isaac must have taken a different path to an unknown destination. At no place in Torah do we read about any future meetings between Abraham and Isaac.

Then, even though is not covered in Torah, Isaac’s had to discover his mother’s death. From what the previous text said, there was a very close relationship between Isaac and his mother. Isaac’s life had to have been shattered.

The rest of the parsha deals with the process of obtaining a wife for Isaac. This process is put in motion by Abraham… without any discussion with Isaac.

After reading the text, I could not help but thinking of the old Tina Turner song – “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” The answer is not much… until the end of the parsha.

In the last lines of last week’s parsha Abraham learns that Sarah’s sister, Milcah, had given birth to eight sons. (Milcah is married to Nahor who is Abraham’s brother.) . Even though Abraham isn’t told, a note in the text states that Bethuel, one of Milcah’s son’s, is the father of Rebekah, Isaac’s future wife. Abraham also learns that his brother had four other children by Reumah, his concubine. (Gen. 22:20-24 – W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah, A Modern Commentary, p. 137)

Now back to this week’s text…. Abraham asks the elder slave of his household to locate a wife for his son, Isaac. Abraham requests that he “not take a wife for my son from among the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose midst I dwell. Rather … go to my land, my birthplace, and get a wife for my son Isaac.” (Gen. 24:3-4)

“What’s love got to do with it?” …. It seems nothing. This was to be an arranged marriage where Isaac had no input.

The question many have asked is why must the wife come from Abraham and Sarah’s distant homeland and not from Canaan where Abraham lives.?

First, the idea of a belief in the Eternal as a reason can be eliminated. Both the Canaanites and Abraham/Sarah’s families were idol worshipers. (In the future, when Jacob goes back to his family for his brides… we learn that Rachel steals one of her father’s idols. This shows that they remained idol-worshipers beyond this generation. [Gen. 31:19]) The reason lies deeper into the values of these peoples. Rashi states: “The deeds of the Egyptians and Canaanites were more corrupt than any other nation and that those peoples whom the Israelites conquered were more corrupt than any other.” This could have been based on a line we find in Leviticus: : “You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you. Nor should you follow their laws.” (Lev. 18:3) (Nehama Leibowiz, New Studies in Bereshit/Genesis, p.219)

So, Abraham wanted to continue those values that were consistent with his, not those practiced in Canaan. In addition, the news of a large extended family back in his homeland could have entered into this decision

It can also be noted that by choosing a wife from a distant location, this wife is less likely to be pressured to maintain the ways of her past. She would be more likely to accept the new ideas of her husband. This may be the reason that all the wives of the patriarchs come from the same distant location. This continuing tradition seems a little unusual… but, it maintains the idea that all these generations were attempting to keep the same values.

Rebekah meets all the criteria for a bride and returns with Abraham’s servant to meet and wed Isaac.

A few lines near the end of the parsha explain Isaac’s reactions to his new bride…. Rebekah saw Isaac walking alone as they approached Isaac’s property. “Taking a veil, she covered herself. The slave then told Isaac all that he had done. And Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah: he took Rebekah, and she became his wife and he loved her. Thus did Isaac take comfort after [the death of] of his mother.” (Gen 24:66-67) In just a few moments, Isaac meets his bride, takes her to his mother’s tent, consummates his marriage, and replaces the love he had for his mother with the feelings he has for Rebekah.

“What’s Love Got to Do with It?”

Earl Sabes

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