Parsha Chayay Sarah by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

This parsha/Torah reading displays what I call “Genesis Style”: the homely, workaday stories of ordinary people going about their lives in the shadow of God. It begins with the death of Sarah, the first matriarch—tragic, despite her advanced age—one hundred twenty-seven, to be exact: the Torah text fully lists her age—something highly unusual in the case of a woman, out of respect for her position as Abraham’s helpmeet, and co-founder of Judaism. Grieving Abraham, shocked and saddened by his loss, must find an appropriate burial place, a family tomb. He chooses the Cave of Machpaylah, owned by the slippery Ephrone the Hittite. Abraham pays Ephrone’s exorbitant first proposal without bargaining, so eager is he to properly inter his beloved Sarah. This begins our people’s long association with the city of Chevrone/Hebron, still a political and geographical powder keg today, due to its location on the West Bank.
Concerned lest his son, Isaac, marry a Canaanite woman, Abraham sends his most trusted servant, Eliezer, back to the “old country” of Charan to find him a wife. Eliezer, a man of Jewish sensibilities, asks for divine help on his matchmaking mission. He proposes to God that when he arrives at the town well, a common gathering place for young women to draw water for their flocks, that the first girl who offers water to him and his caravan will be the divinely-chosen bride for his master, Isaac. First to do so is Rebeccah, daughter of Abraham’s nephew Bethuel. We see here that there are no “accidents” in life, and that everything good is worked out according to the plans of God—b’shert, or destiny. Rebecca will prove to be the most dynamic of the matriarchs, ensuring the survival of Judaism by favoring her clever, though physically weaker, son, Jacob, over the stronger but mentally slower Esau.
When Rebecca meets Isaac, they begin to fall in love. She enters the tent of Abraham and Isaac, tidies it up, and immediately takes Sarah’s place as a balebusteh, or homemaker. The men are comforted by her presence; she is best-suited for continuing the covenant.
Finally, Abraham, given a new lease on life by the arrival of his new, no-nonsense daughter-in-law, takes another concubine, Keturah, by whom he has six more sons. It is crucial for the Jewish future that Isaac is named as his only heir—a rare case of Biblical primogeniture. By parsha’s end, Abraham dies at the age of one hundred and seventy-five, and half-brothers Isaac and Ishmael keep the peace between them long enough to bury their father. Sadly for us today, the peace between Jews and Arabs has not persisted—I wish it could be so!

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Mark

David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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