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Dan Has Questions About Elaborate Plans: Parshat Chayei Sarah

11/17/2022 08:16:13 AM


Dan Leemon

This week's Parshah, Chayei Sarah (which means "the life of Sarah"), is about the next generation of the Jewish people, Isaac and Rebecca. The Parshah begins by saying, "and the life of Sarah was 127 years", which is how old she is when she dies. Abraham realizes he needs to buy some property where Sarah can be buried. The owners of the land recognize that Abraham is blessed by God, and offer to give him land for a burial place. But Abraham insists that he pay them for the land, and he buries Sarah there.

Why do you think Abraham would refuse to accept the land without paying for it?

The Torah tells us that Abraham is old, and that God has blessed him in every way. You know Abraham's story - how God promised he would be the beginning of the Jewish people, how he became a wealthy man, how he and his wife struggled to have a child, how he argues with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, how he saved his nephew Lot, how he sent Hagar and Ishmael out of his household, and how he was told to sacrifice his son Isaac (and nearly did). And now his wife of many years has died.

What do you think the Torah means when it says Abraham was blessed "in every way"?

- Do you agree that he was?

- What would it mean to you to be blessed "in every way"? Would it mean you never have problems or struggles?

Abraham sends his chief servant — whose name we believe to be Eliezer though the Torah doesn’t say so — to find a wife for Isaac in Abraham’s home city, Nahor.

- Why might Abraham not send Isaac to find his own wife?

- With what you know about Isaac — he’s in line to inherit all of Abraham’s wealth, he’ll be the next “father” of the Jewish people, he was nearly sacrificed to God by his own father — what sort of person might be a good partner for Isaac?


Eliezer goes off to Nahor with a few men and 10 camels, and devises a plan to find Isaac a wife.  He shares this plan with God:  Eliezer will hang out at the town’s well when the young women come to get water for their households.  He will ask them for a drink of water and whoever offers to give water to his camels as well — which is a lot of work given how much camels drink and how smelly they are — will be the one whom Isaac should marry.

- What personal characteristics does this tell you Eliezer is looking for in choosing a wife for Isaac?  Do you agree that this is what he should be looking for?

Soon, Rebecca shows up at the well.  Eliezer asks her for a drink of water and, sure enough, she draws water for all of his camels, and says she will keep doing so until the camels have had all they want, and she runs back and forth to the well.  Eliezer is astonished that his plan is working; it’s working so well that he wonders if God has caused her to do this.  Eliezer asks her whether he can stay at her family’s house, and she welcomes him to do so.  She has a brother named Laban — we’ll hear more about him in the near future — and Laban comes to Eliezer and welcomes him to stay with them, feed the camels, and make himself comfortable.  They offer Eliezer food, and he says he first needs to tell them what he’s doing there:  That he is Abraham’s servant, that Abraham is wealthy, and that he has been sent to find a wife for Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac.  Eliezer tells them the whole story — his plan, the well, the camels, what Rebecca did.  Laban and Bethuel (Rebecca and Laban’s father) agree that she should go with them and become Isaac’s wife.  Eliezer gives gifts to Rebecca and her family.  Rebecca’s brother Laban, and her mother, ask that Rebecca stay with them another year or so, but Eliezer says “don’t delay me”.  So they ask Rebecca if she is willing to go now, and she says “I will go.”

- What’s your reaction to this ancient way of deciding who should marry whom?

- Why do you think she agrees to go?

- How do you think Rebecca might have been feeling about all this?  How would you feel if you were she?

Eliezer takes Rebecca and a group of her servants back home to Abraham and Isaac.  Isaac is out praying in a field and sees them coming.  Rebecca looks up and sees him, and gets down off her camel (the Torah is quite specific about the details here).  Eliezer tells her that this is Isaac.  There is something rather touching in this first meeting as described in the Torah.  Isaac and Rebecca become husband and wife.  And the Torah says Isaac loved her, and was comforted by her over the death of his mother Sarah.  We get the sense that they are well-suited to one another and are lucky to have found each other, however unusual the circumstances.  

- If you were Isaac or Rebecca — meeting the person you are supposed to marry for the first time — what would you ask him or her?

- Do you think there is anything Isaac or Rebecca could have done (or would have done) to prevent the marriage if they didn’t like one another?  

Abraham dies not long after, giving everything he has to Isaac.  Isaac and Ishmael bury Abraham next to Sarah on the land that Abraham bought earlier in the Parshah.  The Parshah concludes by telling us a little about Ishmael — that he has many children and dies at the age of 137.

- Why do you think the Torah makes a point of telling us that Ishmael came back to bury Abraham?

So we have the next generation of the Jews, our ancestors Rebecca and Isaac.  We will learn more about them in next week’s Parshah — meanwhile, I wish you a week of feeling blessed in every way, and with perhaps a little more control over your life than it seems Isaac and Rebecca had!

Shabbat shalom,


Wed, December 7 2022 13 Kislev 5783