Chapter Five

Parashah 5: Hayyei Sarah  (Life of Sarah)  Chapters 23:1 – 25:18

From a Believer’s perspective, respect for the dead and concern for the future of the living are vital components of faith in Yahweh, God.  The Parashah opens with Avraham’s negotiating with Ephron, a “transparently greedy”[1] member of the nation of the Hittites, for the purchase of the field of Machpelah, where Avraham buried Sarah.

Sarah died at the age of 127, without giving birth to another child.  Avraham buried her in a cave he bought from the Canaanites, at Kyriat-Arba.  There is another story contained in the events surrounding the burial of Sarah.  When Avraham approached the sons of Het, the man who owned the property on which Avraham and Sarah lived and where she died, he was offered the grave site at Machpelah free of charge.  We read of this in Genesis 23: No, my lord, listen to me: I’m giving you the field, with its cave – I’m giving it to you. In the presence of my people I give it to you. (Genesis 23:11)  But Avraham refused: “Please be good enough to listen to me. I will pay the price of the field; accept it from me, and I will bury my dead there.” (Genesis 23:13)  Why?

Well, to approach an answer to this question, I’d first like to pose a question to you.  Do the people around you, who are not seeking to know God more deeply, as are you or you wouldn’t be reading this book, see something different about you?  When you are with people, who call themselves believers, do you see something different about them? Avraham was like that; he behaved in a different way, than did the Philistines and the Hittites around him.

The Wells of Philistia

This was shown very clearly in the incident with the wells, Avraham dug in Philistia.  If you haven’t read Genesis 21:25-34, please read it now.  All we read in this passage is the complaint Avraham levelled against Avimelekh’s servants, in that they confiscated one of the wells Avraham dug for his people and flocks, claiming it was on Avimelekh’s property and, therefore, belonged to him.  In fact, there were 6 wells that Avraham dug which were confiscated by Avimelekh’s men.

In this dispute with the wells, Avraham operated from within a different strength – that of his God – and the standard of behaviour by which he acted was not his own but that which came from Adonai Elohim Tzivaot, Lord God of Hosts, Himself.  Now this dispute over the dug wells was not just a matter of inconvenience; well-digging in those days had to be completed by hand – remember at this time, mankind was just entering the Bronze Age.  Each well Avraham dug went through solid layers of limestone.  This would have taken his men weeks to dig one well and then a small band of Philistines came and demanded the well, since it lay in Philistine territory.

Do you know what you would have done, if you had spent this amount of time doing something, then someone else, on a technicality, took that away from you?   

I’m sure for most of us the temptation to fight this unfair extradition would be great.  But that would not be God’s way.  Avraham was a model of meekness; he kept his strength under control.  He was willing to give the Philistines the benefit of the doubt and move onto another site.  He did have, at his disposal, a fairly large fighting force, recently engaged in battles to secure Lot and his family from their abduction; however, Avraham ‘turned the other cheek’ and didn’t lose his temper.

Avraham’s Ethics

Torah doesn’t share with us how Avraham sought out God’s direction in both the issue with the wells and the burial site for his wife and family; it doesn’t have to, for we see how this man of faith relies on the standards brought forth by the Almighty, through Torah and how Avraham depends upon those.  It is almost as if by adhering to God’s standard of ethics, Avraham Avinu, Abraham our Father, has called upon our Heavenly Father to lead and guide him directly.

And it was this standard of ethic which Avraham took into his negotiations with Ephron and the sons of Het; he did not want to be seen taking advantage of Ephron. Indeed, if anything, he wanted to be seen as giving Ephron the advantage, as this would be the right thing to do in the sight of God.  And, so, Avraham responded to Ephron’s offer with: Please be good enough to listen to me. I will pay the price of the field; accept it from me, and I will bury my dead there.  Avraham could not have taken Ephron’s offer because he was a man of God; because his ethical system was driven by Torah.  Now, again, how can I say that, when Torah would not be introduced for another thousand years?  Scripture clearly outlines for us Torah is Adonai’s Wisdom; we see this is Proverbs 8.  Let’s begin with verse 22: Adonai made me as the beginning of his way, the first of his ancient works, then we move onto verses 6 & 7: Listen! I will say worthwhile things; when I speak, my words are right.  My mouth says what is true, because my lips detest evil, and, finally, we look to verses 12 and 13: I attain knowledge and discretion.  The fear of Adonai is hatred of evil.  I hate pride and arrogance, evil ways and duplicitous speech.  These verses speak not only of Wisdom, a creation from God’s lips, but also His Life Instructions, His Torah.  Thus, affirming what has happened, Adonai Tzivaot wrote His Torah on Avraham’s heart, providing him with a strong ethical standard, which, for the most part, he followed throughout his life in Cana ‘an.

A Wife for Isaac

As Avraham was approaching his old age, he felt it was time to find a wife for his son, Isaac.  At this time in marital relations, marriages were arranged between families and Avraham went to extreme lengths to ensure Isaac married someone from his own people.  And here we have an interesting dilemma; just who were Avraham’s people?  He wouldn’t have approached his nephew Lot, since both his daughters had violated God’s ethical standards and became pregnant through their father.  The only other choice he had was to obtain a wife from among the Chaldeans.  How was this to happen?

Given Avraham was too old and feeble to travel such a long distance, he sent his most trusted servant, Eliezer, who was of Damascus of the Chaldeans.  Eliezer was now a Hebrew, having been circumcised and having pledged loyalty to the God of Avraham.  As you read through Genesis 24, look for signs of Eliezer’s belief.  Did you notice his prayer to God, recorded in verse 12-14: Adonai, God of my master Avraham, please let me succeed today; and show your grace to my master Avraham.   Here I am, standing by the spring, as the daughters of the townsfolk come out to draw water.  I will say to one of the girls, ‘Please lower your jug, so that I can drink.’ If she answers, ‘Yes, drink; and I will water your camels as well,’ then let her be the one you intend for your servant Yitz’chak. This is how I will know that you have shown grace to my master.  Then, of course, Rivka (Rebecca) responded as Eliezer had prayed and he knew she was the bride for Isaac.  Once the betrothal rituals had been accomplished, as outlined in verse 53, Eliezer was able to escort Rivka to Isaac.  There was no elaborate marriage ritual, at this time.  That would come later; for now, though, Rivka and Yitzchak settled into Sarah’s tent and raised their family within the confines of Abraham’s Clan.

 Avraham had a good life and died at the ripe age of 175.  However, before he went to be with his ancestors, he took another wife, K’turah, to comfort him in his old age.  There is some speculation K’turah  was, in actuality, Hagar[2].  Why would this be?  It is quite possible Abraham loved Hagar, even though she was used to ‘give God a hand’ and produce a child for Abraham.  Was Hagar a woman of upstanding character?  Before she was sent out into the wilderness, Torah tells us she mocked Sarah, who was still barren, at this time.  However, upon being ‘divorced’ by Avraham and sent away from the camp, she displayed to God her shame.  Could this have been the cleansing balm that washed away her guilt?

K’turah has many meanings, according to the writings of the sages of old.  Her name is related to mekuteret, meaning perfumed, as scented with God’s commandments and good deeds, being more savoury than fine spices, and also related to ketoret, implying her behaviour was a fine as incense.  Finally, the sages claim her name is related to keshuah, meaning sealed.  What does this have to do with Hagar?  The sages claim Hagar was chaste, after she left Avraham’s camp, having known only Avraham; therefore, because of her shame, Adonai sent her back to remarry Avraham.  In any event, Yitzchak had many step brothers and sisters through K’turah.  Genesis 25 tells us, Avraham gave everything he owned to Yitz’chak.  But to the sons of the concubines he made grants while he was still living and sent them off to the east, to the land of Kedem, away from Yitz’chak his son. (Genesis 25:5,6)  He obviously did not want Yitzchak and his family to be drawn away from God by K’turah’s children.

[1] Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, General Editors, Op. Cit., Pg. 106.

[2] Midrash Rabbah on Genesis 25:1.

May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless you fully and richly

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