Student Teaching in the New Millenium

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5771 Chayei Sarah

In Genesis on November 12, 2010 at 4:57 am

The Parsha and Haftarah are both concerned with covenants and the future. Why the bargaining with the Hittites? They offer Abraham the opportunity to bury his dead among theirs, yet Abraham insists on his own plot, and insists on providing compensation. Why is this? Is it because Abraham wants true ownership of the land? I am not sure about this. It is later established that we cannot truly own the land, only borrow it from God. Abraham himself led a nomadic lifestyle as seen in previous Parshas. So why else? Is the Torah teaching us the value of sealing agreements? Is the Torah teaching us the value of clean understandings with those around us? Is the Torah teaching us that we are separate from other peoples in death as in life?

Is Abraham protecting his line from being forgotten? It is said that Isaac, when his mother died, grieved so deeply that the religious rites of his household – inherited from Abraham – stopped. If Isaac ceased fulfilling the obligations of his father’s covenant, was Abraham concerned that God would default on his promise? “You and your offspring to come throughout the ages shall keep My covenant.” (Gen. 17:9) Was Abraham concerned that Isaac would not find a wife, and therefore there would be no offspring? Possible: Abraham takes this matter into his own hands in Chapter 24; is this necessary if Isaac was active rather than passive?

Should we be concerned that, rather than Jacob, today, we are become Isaac without Rebekah? Were the many spiritual and intellectual traditions of our heritage that were killed in the Holocaust our Sabbath bride, the Shechinah, now forever lost? Or were these traditions our Sarah, and our Rebekah is yet to be found? Or are we Abraham, committed but concerned that we will disappear? Should we seek Rebekah always? If not for ourselves then for our children?

Why is the servant’s narrative given twice? I think this has to do with the repetition of Adonijah’s plans by Bathsheba and Nathan in the Haftarah, and that this is a key to the Parsha.

In the Haftarah, Bathsheba introduces and Nathan confirms the threat to David’s integrity and posterity. In the Parsha, the Torah introduces and the servant confirms his purpose to Rebekah’s family. I think both sets of narratives present the threat of the end of the line of Abraham: the survival of the posterity of the father through the chosen son. Is it significant that they do so in opposite ways? The Haftarah presents a threat actively in a passive way: Nathan asks Bathsheba to remind King David of his promise to her and to take action their behalf. Nathan and Bathsheba and Solomon are passive: they cannot take direct action and need higher help to do it for them. The Parsha presents a threat passively in an active way: Abraham empowers his servant to find Isaac a wife and to act on his own behalf as the situation develops. The servant and Abraham act, but neither ever states their concerns. Is this significant? Is this necessary? In both cases, whether active or passive, the threat is permanent. Are we being taught that a threat is a threat is a threat, no matter the appearance? What else? The Parsha and the Haftarah resolve the issue in opposite ways. The Parsha’s resolution is passive within the Parsha. “Isaac then brought her in the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” (Gen. 24:67) The Haftarah’s resolution is extremely active. “…the king took an oath, saying, “As the Lord lives, who has rescued me from every trouble: The oath I swore to you by the Lord…I will fulfill this very day!” (Kings 1:29-30) David is ashlamta, and asserts that he keeps his promises directly. Can we infer that David, as King, is also a metaphor or idiom for God? Is God also ashlamta? Is God asserting that He keeps His promises, however directly or indirectly it may seem? (Gen. 17:9)

One final question: is it significant that this Parsha is the first in the Torah in which God does not speak?