Being Blessed With Everything

The midrash explains what it means that Abraham was blessed with everything and what a blessed life could mean for us.

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Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.

Overview

The portion Haye Sarah--the "life of Sarah"--serves as a bridge between the story of Abraham and Sarah and the next generations. Sarah dies, and Abraham buys the cave of Machpelah in which to bury her. Abraham then sends his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant finds Rebekah, and then goes to meet her family, including her brother Lavan. Lavan will later figure prominently in the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. At the end of the portion, Abraham dies, and is buried by his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael.

In Focus

"Abraham was old, advanced in age, and God had blessed Abraham in everything." (Genesis 24:1)

Pshat

After burying Sarah in the cave of Machpelah, Abraham turns his attention to finding a partner for Isaac, so that the family covenant may be continued. (One might say that worries about Jewish continuity are nothing new!) In between settling the last details of the burial and Abraham's instructions to his servant, the Torah tells us that Abraham was blessed with "everything," bakol.

Drash

An obvious difficulty with our passage is that it seems out of place. Why is Abraham described as blessed with "everything" before he sends his servant out to find a partner for Isaac? Wouldn't it make more sense after the servant comes back and Isaac has children? In fact, Rashi (medieval French commentator), among others, notices this problem and therefore links this passage to Abraham's desire to find a wife for Isaac--this would make the blessing truly complete.

On the other hand, some classic midrashic (rabbinic exegetical narrative) sources offer very different interpretations of Abraham's blessing in "everything." Midrash Rabbah is a compilation of midrashim dating back to the era of the Talmud; it records diverse opinions about this verse:

"'. .and God had blessed Abraham in everything.' R. Yehudah said: It means that God gave him a female. R. Nehemiah replied: [You mean] she was the center of the king's household [i.e., Abraham's] household, but there is no record of a blessing about her!

"Maybe 'and God had blessed Abraham in everything' doesn't mean God gave him a daughter? R. Levi gave three [interpretations.] 'Everything'--he ruled over his desires. 'Everything'--that Ishmael achieved reconciliation in his [Abraham's] lifetime. 'Everything'-that his storehouse never lacked for anything. R. Levi said in the name of R. Hama: It means that God did not test him again." (Genesis Rabbah 59:7, translation mine, based on notes in the Mirkin edition.)

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.