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Chayei Sarah 5774-2013

“Yitzchak Establishes a Home with His New Wife”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Chayei Sarah, we read of the death of the matriarch Sarah at age 127.

Rashi cites the Midrash Tanchuma to explain why the report of the death of Sarah immediately follows the account of the Binding of Isaac. The Midrash maintains that, when Sarah heard that her beloved son Isaac was almost slaughtered on Mt. Moriah, her soul flew from her body and she died.

After announcing the death of Sarah, Scripture provides a detailed account of Abraham’s purchase of the grave of Machpelah from the children of Heth. Oddly, there is no mention of Isaac in the entire narrative. In fact, after the Akeidah, there is not a single scriptural record of any conversation between Isaac and Abraham, only, as we shall see, Midrashic references.

Some commentators maintain that Isaac was estranged from his father after Abraham’s attempted filicide. Others suggest that perhaps Isaac blamed Abraham for the premature death of his mother.

A Midrash, cited by Eliyahu Kitov, relates that when Isaac’s mother, Sarah, died, Isaac was not informed of her death because it was assumed that it would be too difficult for him to accept. However, when Isaac eventually learned of Sarah’s death, he chose not to return to Hebron, where his mother was buried or to Beersheba, where his father had returned. Isaac instead elected to remain in the city of Shalem (Jerusalem) near Mt. Moriah where the Akeidah took place. According to tradition, Isaac learned Torah there for three years, after which he returned to Beersheba, to reunite with his father.

When Isaac heard that Abraham had sent his Damascan servant, Eliezer, to Haran to find him a wife, Isaac decided that his bereaved father, Abraham, should no longer be alone. Isaac went to Beer-L’chai-Roh’ee to search for Abraham’s estranged wife Hagar, and discovered that on that very day Hagar had returned, repented and purified herself. Hagar, who was then known by the name “Keturah”–“the pure one,” eventually remarried Abraham and bore him six additional sons.

The commentators note that Scripture emphasizes that Isaac now dwelt in the land of the Negev, underscoring the fact that Isaac had returned to Hebron to be reunited with his mother who was buried there.

Scripture (Genesis 24:63) reads, “Va’yay’tzay Yitzchak la’soo’ahch ba’sah’deh, lif’noht ah’rev,” Isaac went out to meditate in the field, toward evening. According to tradition, the field, was the field of Machpelah, and according to the commentators, Isaac had gone out, not to meditate, but to pray the afternoon Mincha service.

As the caravan, led by Eliezer, carrying Isaac’s would-be bride approached, Rebecca lifted her eyes and saw a handsome man resembling an angel of G-d, wrapped in a prayer shawl, his palms stretched out to heaven in prayer. Looking up, Isaac saw the camels, stopped praying, and walked toward the caravan.

When Rebecca was informed that the man coming toward her in the field was her intended, Isaac, Rebecca modestly covered herself with a scarf, fell off the camel, and lowered her head to praise the Al-mighty G-d. The Midrash states that Rebecca cried out in gratitude (Psalms 16:5) “Hashem m’naht chel’kee v’cho’see, ah’tah, toh’meech go’rah’lee,” G-d, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup, You maintain my lot. Eliezer then proceeded to share with Isaac the many fateful events that had occurred to him, and how the match with Rebecca came to be.

At this point, Scripture notes (Genesis 24: 67), “Vah’y’vee’eh’hah Yitzchak ha’oh’heh’lah Sarah ee’mo, vah’yee’kach eht-Rivka, vah’t’hee lo l’ee’sha, vah’yeh’eh’hah’veh’ha, vah’yee’nah’chem Yitzchak ah’cha’ray ee’mo,” And Isaac brought her [Rebecca] into the tent of Sarah his mother. He married Rebecca. She became his wife, and he loved her. Thus was Isaac consoled after his mother.

The order of events in the verse seems rather strange. The rabbis explain the odd chronology, pointing out that Isaac first brought Rebecca into the tent of his mother, Sarah. There he tested Rebecca to determine whether she was worthy of dwelling in the tent of the late, great, righteous matriarch, and whether her deeds were equal to the deeds of Sarah. Rebecca, of course, passed with flying colors. Only after Rebecca had proven herself, did Isaac agree to marry Rebecca. After the marriage, Isaac’s love for Rebecca grew increasingly stronger, finally allowing Isaac to be comforted after the loss of his mother.

Three years had passed since Sarah had died, and yet until this moment, Isaac had remained in deep mourning. Every time he thought of his mother, his eyes would well up. Only after three years, once Isaac married Rebecca and loved her, was he consoled for the loss of his mother. It is from Isaac’s behavior that we learn that before marriage, a person’s love is often directed exclusively toward one’s parents. Once married, the love is transformed and redirected toward a spouse. This transformation is implied in the verse in Genesis 2:24: “Ahl kayn yah’ah’zahv eesh et ah’viv v’et ee’mo, v’dah’vahk b’eesh’toh, v’hah‘yoo l’vah’sahr eh’chahd,” Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, indicating that the qualitative difference between love for a parent and romantic love for a spouse becomes most apparent only after a man falls in love with a woman and a woman with a man.

The Midrash goes to great lengths to explain how Rebecca was tested in the tent of Sarah to determine whether she was a worthy mate. They note that, as long as Sarah was alive, a lamp burnt in her tent from one Sabbath eve to the next, her dough was blessed, and a cloud (signifying the Divine Presence) hovered over her tent. When Sarah died, these blessings ceased, but when Rebecca entered the tent, they resumed. In this manner was it proven to Isaac that Rebecca was a worthy successor to Sarah.

The Ramban maintains that the tents of the patriarchs were constantly filled with the spirit of G-d. In fact, the Tabernacle that G-d commanded the people of Israel to build so that He could dwell amongst them, in effect, replicated the holy tents and dwellings of the patriarchs.

This confluence accounts for the strong parallel between the tents of Sarah and the Tabernacle. Just as a lamp burned in Sarah’s tent from one Sabbath to the next, so did the Eternal light of the candelabra burn all day and all night in the Tabernacle. Just as the dough was blessed in Sarah’s tent, so did the weekly showbread remain in the Tabernacle from one Sabbath to the next, and even though it was a week old on the Sabbath when it was distributed to the priests, it was still warm–-indicating that it was offered with an intense spirit of generosity and with heartfelt pleasure. Furthermore, when the showbread was eaten by the priests, each priest felt entirely satiated. Finally, just as the cloud signifying the Divine Presence hung over Sarah’s tent, so too did the Divine cloud position itself over the Tabernacle.

While the betrothal of Rebecca and Isaac appears to be serendipitous and fantasy-like, the internal relationships among the patriarchs and the family members were often complicated and, at times, tempestuous. All families have issues, and relationships usually need to be worked through in order for families to savor tranquility and bliss. No family dynamic is without its bumps and challenges. Our Torah does not hide the issues that beset the patriarchal families to teach the profound message that families must face their challenges boldly, and in order to survive and flourish, all problems and challenges must be acknowledged, confronted directly, and hopefully, addressed successfully.

The candor of the Bible is not only remarkable. It is indeed unique. It is the Bible’s candor that makes it a truly special and most effective training manual for life.

May you be blessed.