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BASIC QUESTIONS ON PARASHAT CHAYEI-SARA…
How do the following objects connect with the events described in the Parasha and the Haftara?
(a) Currency easy to do business with
(c) A jug
(d) A chariot, riders, and fifty runners
(e) Ten camels
(f) Cattle, oxen, and sheep
(i) The Tent
(a) Abraham paid Efron four hundred silver shekels in 'negotiable currency' for the Cave of Machpeila (23:16).
(b) Abraham gave gifts to the sons of his concubines (simple translation), or the sons of his later wife Ketura (following Rashi to 25:6), on sending them away from his household. Those sons included Midyan (25:2) whose civilization was to include Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses.
(c) Used by Rebecca to draw water from the well to quench the thirsts of Abraham's servant and his camels.
(d) Before King David's death, his fourth son Adonijah started to put on airs, declaring that he was next in line to the throne. He emphasized his importance by 'preparing a chariot and horses for himself and fifty runners'. (Kings I 1:5)
(e) The transport used for Abraham's servant's journey between the Holy Land and Haran.
(f) These cattle, oxen, and sheep were slaughtered by would-be king Adonijah as a feast for his supporters. They included Joab, David's commander of the army. (Kings I 1:19)
(g) Supplied by Laban to Abraham's servant's hungry animals (24:32).
(h) The Cave of Machpeila, which Abraham brought from the Ephron the Hittite as a family burial tomb (23:16).
(i) Isaac settled down to live with Rebecca in the tent of his mother, Sarah. (24:67)
(j) Ishmael's descendants are stated to have lived in Shur, near Egypt. (25:18)
RASHI'S COMMENTARY ON PARASHAT CHAYEI-SARA
Where, within Rashi's comments on the Parasha, may the following be found?
(a) The Torah expresses its distaste for those who show public generosity and yet actually give nothing.
(b) The Divine Presence rests where Man wishes it to be.
(c) A wise person answers questions in the order that they are put to him.
(d) G-d has a unique affection for the Patriarchs and their associated happenings.
(e) A woman may not be married off without her consent.
(f) A man's wife fills the emotional void that his mother satisfied earlier in his life.
(g) Ishmael repented.
…AND ON THE HAFTARA
(h) Whoever fails to rebuke his son when necessary is responsible for his death
(a) The Hebrew verb denoting Abraham's payment of four hundred silver shekels - vayishkol (23:16) - is spelt without the expected vav in the middle of the word. That deficiency hints at the Torah's frowning on the deficient behavior of one who acts generously and obsequiously in public, and yet meanly and miserly behind closed doors. For the four hundred silver shekels that Abraham actually paid were over la-socher - in premium, international recognized, currency.
(b) Abraham describes G-d at the time he left Haran as 'the G-d of heaven', (24:7) but at the later moment of preparing to send his servant in quest of a suitable wife for his son Isaac, as 'the G-d of heaven and the G-d of the Earth.' (24:3) Rashi brings the derivation that G-d became G-d of the Earth, so to speak, because Abraham managed to introduce Him and make Him known amongst Mankind.
(c) When the servant met Rebecca, for the first time, at the well, he asked her which family she belonged to and then if there were overnight lodgings available in the district. And Rachel answered her in that order - family details first, available accommodation afterwards. (24:23-4)
(d) Rashi to 24:42 quotes the Amora, R. Acha as saying that 'the Torah of the Patriarchs is more beautiful than the Torah of their descendants in the eyes of G-d. For the story of Eliezer (who by tradition was the 'servant') is recounted twice in the Torah, and many fundamental parts of the Torah are merely hinted at in the text.'
(e) (Her brother and her mother) 'called Rebecca and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" and she replied "I will go"' (24:58) - understood as meaning specifically 'I definitely wish to go'. This man, Abraham's servant, was taking her to Abraham's household with the express purpose of becoming Isaac's wife.
(f) After Isaac married Rebecca, the text states that he was finally 'comforted after (the death) of his mother (Sarah)'. (24:67) It shows that a wife fills her husband's deep emotional needs - which, earlier in life, were satisfied by his mother.
(g) 'His (Abraham's) sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the Cave of Machpeila.' (25:9) Isaac's name being mentioned before Ishmael hints at the tradition that Ishmael, the older son, gave due precedence to Isaac at the burial ceremony.
(h) The text states openly that King David had never restrained his son Adonijah (Kings I I:6), which Rashi renders as that he never punished him. As a result, he became headstrong and unsuccessfully tried to usurp the throne at the end of his father's life. His final attempt at court intrigue involving the attempt to take the princess, Avishag the Shunnamite, led to his death at the command of his half-brother, King Solomon (2:25).
OTHER COMMENTS ON PARASHAT CHAYEI-SARA
1. Why does the Torah give a detailed, rather than a simple account of Abraham's purchase of a burial plot - according (a) Ibn Ezra and (b) the Ramban?
2. Why, according to Hirsch (based on Derashot Ha-Ran), did Abraham insist that his son Isaac should marry into a family from his native Mesopotamia and not from the local Canaanites? Both nations were pagans (see Joshua 24:2).
3. How do Rashi and the Ramban differ in understanding the ulterior motives behind Laban's open enthusiasm in welcoming Abraham's servant?
4. 'Laban and Bethuel answered… "Here is Rebecca, take her and go! … as G-d has spoken."' (24:50-1) According to the Ramban, where did G-d actually 'speak'?
1. Ibn Ezra holds that the Torah uses this narrative to emphasize the virtues of the Holy Land for both the living and the dead, and to fulfill G-d's promise in giving him an 'inheritance' in the Land. The Ramban challenges the above, claiming, inter alia, that the whole land was promised to Abraham, and that promise was only fulfilled with Abraham's descendents. The Ramban therefore links the ceremony of the purchase with fulfillment of another promise G-d made to Abraham - namely that of 'I will make your name great'. (12:2) For Abraham was honored during the public negotiations for the plot as being declared a 'prince of G-d' (23:6) by the native Hittites. In addition, the Ramban cites the Rabbinic tradition that this purchase was one of Abraham's trials - he was forced to by a burial plot in the land that was promised to him as an inheritance, and yet he did not question the ways of the Almighty.
2. Hirsch explains that Abraham could not have rejected the Canaanites because of their idol worship, because Abraham's family in Haran were also pagans. Rather, Abraham was disgusted by the moral degeneracy of the Canaanites. Idolatry, writes Hirsch, is an intellectual error and may be remedied, but the lack of morality, ethics, and modesty affects the individual's entire nature, effectively disqualifying any Caaananite woman from becoming Isaac's future wife.
3. Rashi understands Laban's hospitality as a step towards accessing the wealth of Abraham's household. For his generous representative had just shown part of those riches with the gifts he gave to Rebecca. The Ramban, however, interprets Laban's character in the context of that passage as basically straightforward and honorable, and he sees nothing up to this point in the narrative that suggests otherwise.
4. G-d is not recorded to have spoken explicitly anywhere in this narrative. However, the Ramban points out that G-d 'speaks' through His control of events, the entire sequence of happenings effectively showing that He wanted Rebecca to become Isaac's wife.
SOME ITEMS FOR DISCUSSION
1. *In the dialogue between Abraham and the Hittite chief, Efron, over the purchase of the Cave of Machpeila, why did the Hittites treat Abraham with such public pomp and respect? True, Abraham was wealthy, but in their eyes he was both a foreigner and a non-believer in their idolatry. Secondly, why did Efron offer to give the burial plot for Sarah free of charge - in public? Even amongst the Jews today there is no Halacha forbidding the sale of land for this purpose: to this end the Hatam Sofer concludes in his Teshuvot (on Yoreh Deah 331) that it is a mitzvah to take some payment for a burial site from even a poor person.
2. Why is Abraham's servant not mentioned by name even once in this Parasha? The only time any of Abraham's servants' names reach the text is in Parashat Lech-Lecha - 'and the steward of my house is Eliezer of Damascus' (15:2).
3. The story of Isaac's marriage to Rebecca reveals great restraint: she veiled herself on meeting Isaac, he then married her, she became his wife, and only then 'he loved her.' The story of Jacob's meeting Rachel shows spontaneous love - when she reached the well with her father's sheep and Jacob saw her for the first time, he kissed her (29:11) and, long before they were actually married 'Jacob loved Rachel' (29:18). How may the 'backgrounds' of the very different meetings be reconciled with each other?
*Please note - My own attempts to deal with the issues related in #1 may be found in the archives for 5761 on Shema Yisrael - on Parashat Chayei-Sarah.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Also by Jacob Solomon: Between the Fish and the Soup
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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