Commentary on Parashat Chayei Sara, Genesis 23:1 - 25:18
Sara dies at 127 years of age in Hebron in the land of Canaan. Abraham mourns her, then asks property owners there to grant him burial space so that he may bury his dead out of his sight. Knowing that Abraham is ennobled by God, they are willing to give Abraham the choicest land, but Abraham insists on paying for it. Only then does Abraham bury his wife in the cave of Machpelah in the land of Canaan.
Feeling old, Abraham decides to find a wife for his son Isaac. He says to his eldest servant, “Swear by God, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not take a wife from among the Canaanites, but that you shall go to my homeland and take a wife from among my kindred.”
The servant says, “What if the woman will not want to follow me into this land? Shall I have your son go there?”
Abraham responds, “Take heed that you do not bring my son back there! God, Who took me from my father’s house, will send an angel before you. If the woman should not want to go with you, then you will be free from this oath.”
The servant swore to Abraham this oath and took 10 camels and some of his master’s finest things and journeyed to the city of Nahor. He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the water well at the time of evening when the women come to draw water.
Feed My Camels!
And the servant said, “Let it come to pass that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please tilt your pitcher so that I may drink,’ will respond with, ‘Drink and I will give your camels water too.’”
The servant had hardly finished speaking when Rebecca, a descendant of Abraham’s brother, came down to the well and filled her pitcher. Abraham’s servant ran to meet her, saying, “Let me please sip a little water from your pitcher.”
“Drink,” she said. “Then I will draw water for your camels too.”
As she did so, the servant kept on gazing upon her in wonderment, holding his peace to know whether God had caused his journey to prosper or not.
Only after the camels had finished drinking did the servant take a valuable ring of gold and two golden bracelets and ask, “Whose daughter are you and is there room in your father’s house for us to stay overnight?”
“Yes, come stay,” Rebecca said after she explained her lineage.
The servant bowed his head and prostrated himself before God, saying, “Blessed be God, the God of my master Abraham.”
Rebecca then ran and told her mother what had happened by the well. Now, Rebecca had a brother, Laban, and Laban, seeing the gifts of gold on his sister, went to greet the man and invited him to come into the house.
The servant of Abraham came in and explained his mission. “I am a servant of Abraham. God has blessed my master exceedingly so that he has become great. He is rich with animals and money and servants. Sara, my master’s wife, bore him a son, and to this son Abraham will give everything. He asked me to leave Canaan to find a wife from among his kinsman. Abraham told me that the God to Whom he is a servant will send an angel and help me find the proper wife for his son.
“So I came to the well and waited to see if a woman might give me water and offer my camels water too. Rebecca came immediately and graciously did so. I blessed God for sending Rebecca to me and my master. Now, tell me if you wish to deal in loving-kindness and truth with my master so that I may know what to do.”
Permission From Father
Laban and his father, Bethuel, said, “The matter has come forth from God. Take Rebecca and go as God has spoken.”
When the servant of Abraham heard their words, he bowed low before God and brought forth articles of gold and silver for Rebecca and delicious fruits for her family. He stayed with the family overnight. The next morning the family asked that Rebecca stay with them for a while, but Abraham’s servant said to them, “Do not delay me, since God has caused my journey to prosper.”
They then called for Rebecca and asked her if she would go with this man. “I will go,” she said. Then they sent Rebekah away with a blessing, “Become the mother of thousands of ten thousands and may your offspring seize the gate of your enemies.”
Now Isaac was meditating in the field when he saw camels coming. Rebecca took her veil and covered herself. The servant told Isaac all that had occurred. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother, Sara. He married Rebecca and he loved her, and only then was Isaac comforted by the loss of his mother.
Abraham took another wife, Keturah. She bore him six sons, and those sons begot more sons, but all that Abraham had, he gave to Isaac.
To the new wife’s children, he gave them gifts and sent them away. Later, Abraham died satisfied at the age of 175. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Makhpelah where his wife Sara was buried.
It came to pass that after Abraham died, God blessed his son Isaac. Isaac dwelt near the well of “The-Living-One-Who-Sees-Me.”
The descendants of Hagar, who bore Abraham’s son Ishmael, are listed. Ishmael had 12 princes, listed according to their tribes. Ishmael died at 137 years. His people lived near Egypt.
Parashat Chayei Sara Discussion Questions
1. Why did Abraham want to bury Sara “out of his sight?” Why do traditional Jews still bury people in graveyards today rather than “within our sight?”
2. The servant of Abraham comes up with a test at the well to find the wife for Isaac. Do you ever come up with tests for people to pass? Give an example. What do your tests reveal about yourself and about them?
3. Why was it so important for Abraham to find a wife for Isaac from his kinsmen in his father’s land rather than from the land of Canaan? Is it still important to marry someone from the same tribe or religion? Why or why not?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!