Parshat Chayei Sarah

Torah Reading for Week of November 4-10, 2012

“Parents’ Hope”
By Chaplain Muriel Dance, Ph.D, M.J.S. ‘11

Like Sarah and Abraham I am a parent of an adult son, and I yearn for him to find a soulmate.  I hope this imagined partner for my son will fit into the family.  Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18) bridges the death of Sarah, Abraham’s wife and Isaac’s mother, with the marriage of Isaac to Rebecca.  In between Abraham buries Sarah, sends his trusted servant to find a wife for his son in the land of his birth and is himself gathered to his people.  The parsha yokes sadness with joy–death with marriage.

The first blessing of this parsha is Abraham’s commitment to honor his wife through a proper burial; it is the final act of kavod hamet–honoring the dead. First Abraham takes time to mourn and cry (Genesis 23:2).  Abraham also calls himself a stranger in this land. While he speaks these words as a prelude to his negotiation to buy a cave from the Hittites for the burial, he is also metaphorically a stranger to himself; his wife’s death is a loss of a significant piece of himself.

Abraham finds part of himself in his search for a wife for his son, and their union enables him and Sarah to transcend their individual deaths. Rebekah has remarkable similarities to Abraham. First Abraham and Rebekah are both taken out from their land and from their families.  G-d commands Abraham:  “Go for yourself (Lech, Lecha–Genesis 12:1).  Rebecca is asked by her mother and brothers, “Will you go with this man?”  Without hesitation she answers, “I will go” (Genesis 24:58). Both question and answer use the same Hebrew root as Abraham’s command. Both Abraham and Rebekah show alacrity in responding to change.  They are both decisive and willing to take risks.

Abraham and Rebekah are also alike in their generosity.  Both demonstrate their hospitality to strangers–their gifts of food and water and lodging.  Abraham has found a wife for Isaac whom he and Sarah, were she alive, would feel comfortable with as a daughter-in-law.  Both Abraham and Rebekah are given similar blessings.  Abraham is told by an angel of Adonai after the binding of Isaac, “I will surely bless you and greatly increase your offspring . . . and your offspring shall inherit the gate of its enemy” (Genesis 22:17).  So too Rebekah is blessed by her brothers and mother, “may you come to be thousands of myriads and may your offspring inherit the gates of its foes” (Genesis 24:61).  The Hebrew of these blessings is similar. This yoking of Abraham with Rebekah through the parallels of their actions and their language affirms the rightness of the union between Rebekah and Isaac.  In finding Rebekah, Abraham is restoring a lost part of himself as well as looking to the future for his son.

The final blessing of this parsha is in the uniting of two soulmates, of Rebekah and Isaac. This fulfills Sarah and Abraham’s longing for their son to find a holy partnership, and comforts Isaac for the loss of his mother.  May you who are parents of young adults and who long for your children to be in a holy relationship with a partner, be blessed with the opportunity to see them in a bond that both sustains them in the face of losses and gives them and us a model for our relationship with the Holy One.

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