Parshat Chayei Sarah – The life of Sarah
The Cave of Machpelah
The Life of a Matriach and a Patriach
This parsha (section) is named a little strange because this parsha does not deal with the life of Sarah, instead it starts off with Avraham purchasing a place to bury Sarah, so in other words this parsha starts off with the death of Sarah. The question that comes to mind is how did she die? After all, she was 10 years younger than Avraham. The Targum Yonatan explains why there is no story of Sarah’s death, and why Avraham and Yitzach (Isaac) was not with her at the time of her death. According to this midrash it teaches us that since the death of Sarah immediately follows the story of the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac) that we need to look closer. The midrash says that she died because of the Akeidah She was told by the HaSatan (the adversary, i.e. Satan), that Avraham had actually killed Isaac on the altar, and her response was that she was overwhelmed with grief and died.
The honor given to Avraham was so great that in verse 23:6, it says “Hear us, my lord, you are a prince of G-d in our midst,…” What is the word for prince in Hebrew? It is “nasi” and it is related to the root “nasa” which means to lift, to carry, to take”. A prince is someone that lifts and carries the people. Avraham was a prince because Avraham was lifting everyone up to HaShem, and even the pagans in the land came to recognize how important Avraham was in the plans of HaShem.
Verse 23:9 refers to the cave at Machpeleh. The root for this is Cafal which means to double, it is a double cave. So it is very interesting to see that the Patriachs that are buried there are buried with their soul mate, the Matriach, their double so to say. There is a disagreement with the soul mate of Ya’acov (Jacob), some say that it was Rachel because he loved her so much, but other scholars believe that it was Leah. I side with the scholars that say it was Leah. Rachel has her own tomb which is actually somewhere else. Another possible thought with the word Machpeleh is the “place as a miracle” however there is no other story to justify that interpretation of the name.
In verse 24:2, Avraham makes his servent take an oath to find a wife for Yitzach from the land of Avraham. The verse says “Place now your hand under my thigh”. This oath is under the thigh because it is close to the sign of Avrahams covenant with HaShem, it is close to the seeds of Avraham. By Eliezer placing his hand under the thigh of Avraham, Eliezer would be agreeing that Eliezer would lose the ability to have children himself if he violated this oath. The oath could be absolved if a women would not return with Eliezer but Yitzach still could not go to Ur of the Kasdim, and if he did than Eliezer would be in trouble for violating the oath.
In verse 24:31, this is when Laban finds out about the dowry that Avraham sent with Eliezer. Laban says, “Come, O blessed of HaShem!...” I find this very strange, since later we learn when Ya’acov (Jacob) shows up to Labans place we are painted a picture that Laban was a pagan and served my pagan gods, and we know that this land the people served many pagan gods and this is one of the reasons Avraham is commanded to leave. This one sentence seems to be out of place. Another puzzle is why would Avraham send Eliezer to this land to find a wife for Yitzach? My theory is that Avraham knew that there were people in the land that understood a little about the G-d of Avraham, probably because he was teaching them before he left. We are given a genealogy of Rivkah (Rebbecca) and so we know that Laban was related to Avraham, so Laban would have learned some things from having Avraham around. In addition, he would have recognized that Eliezer was a servant of Avraham, and that is probably why he makes reference to HaShem. So Laban is just playing up to Laban.
A famous saying when a Jewish girl gets married is based on the scripture 24:60 which says, “They blessed Rebecca and said to her, “Our sister, may you come to be thousands of myriads, and may your offspring inherit the gate of its foes.”” This saying is still said during the wedding process for Orthodox Jewish girls to this day.
In verse 24:63 it says that Yitzach went out to the field towards evening to prayer. This according to the Talmud Tractate Berachos 26b is where the afternoon prayers known as Minchah (afternoon prayer) was instituted. Avraham started the custom of Shacharit (morning prayer), and Ya’akov started Ma’ariv (night prayer) as mentioned later in 28:11.
In verse 25:1 it makes reference to Avraham getting married to Keturah (name means inscene). Midrash says that this same Keturah is the same person as Hagar (the stranger). The midrash story says that she repented, and that she never knew another man, and repented and married Avraham.
The end of the Parsha speaks a lot of Yishmael. Why would be the question, if he was sent away from Avraham, why would it matter? The key to this question is in verse 25:9, which states “His sons Isaac and Yishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre.” The answer is that Yishmael also repented and accepted his rightful place behind Isaac as indicated with his name coming second. There was reconciliation for the family of Avraham with his sons, and Keturah (Hagar), and so any modern day problems between the sons of Yishmael (the Arabs) and the sons of Yitzach (the Jews) are just that modern day problems that cannot be traced back to this part of scripture like so many expounders would like to trace back. Remember, not all Arabs are Muslims, and most Muslims are not Arab at all. It is hard to separate religions from nations when speaking of the Middle East because they are intimately connected.