Chayei Sarah 5773 – Gilayon #773
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Parshat Chaye Sara
And she said: Also for your
camels shall I draw
until all have finished
And she said: Also for your camels shall I draw – From here we derive that one should show concern for himself
and should watch over himself, and Eliezer, after he requests "Give me to
drink" she gave him, but the beasts, because of the [mitzvah to prevent] suffering
of the animals, everyone, not only the owners, are obligated, and from here we
learn the ruling that a person may obligate himself to his personal detriment,
but not so with his animals, because they have no freedom of choice, and this
is written in a Mishna at the end of "Hapoalim" (Bava Metsia 93), therefore she gave the animals even though he did not
request and [she gave them that] which he did not request, because it is not
proper etiquette to trouble another for the sake of one's beasts, and this is
simple to understand.
(Meshech Chochma, ibid. ibid)
…We have before us a
typical characteristic of a true doer of loving kindness, a sure sign of a
Jewish woman of valor. Had she divulged immediately her final intentions, she
would have seemed to be an idle chatterer, taking pride in the acts of kindness
she performs. And here not does she only take upon herself to give the camels a
bit of water to drink, – even giving each camel a single jug would have been
considerable bother for it involves going down and drawing ten times – but she
continues to draw and pour into the trough until ten camels have drunk their
(RaShaR Hirsch, ibid. ibid)
the middle of parashat "Chayey
Sarah", between the story of Sarah's demise and that of Abraham's passing,
the Torah presents a glorious saga, Abraham's servant's journey to find a wife
for Isaac , and eventually – Rivkah and Yitzchak are married.
story appears in Chapter 24, the longest in the Book of Bereishit. There are
additional unique features to this story: this is the first time that the Bible
brings a narrative so highly detailed (such as the later stories of Joseph and
David), and it is thrice related – the plan of Abraham's servant, its actual
unfolding and, finally, its imparting to the family of Rivkah1. We
come to know an epic figure, whose thoughts, opinions and deeds are revealed to
the reader in great clarity – the humble servant of Abraham.
this story we also find the first explicit prayers recorded in the Torah2,
and they too come from the mouth of the servant. The first is for the success
of his mission: "O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune
this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham" (24:12);
the second, a prayer of thanksgiving: "And he said 'Blessed be the Lord,
the God of my master Abraham, who has not withheld His steadfast kindness from
my master, for I have been guided on my errand by the Lord, to the house of my
master's kinsmen" (ibid.
27). And this is also the first time that
the Bible records a person blessing another person: "O sister, may you
grow into thousands of myriads, may your offspring seize the gates of their
addition, in this story we meet Rivkah, the first woman whom the Torah
accompanies from birth (22:23), through her youth, until her death (which the Torah does
not describe). Rivkah is also the first assertive and active woman in the
Bible: she responds to the servant's approach, draws water until she satiates
the servant and his ten camels, and even offers him home hospitality. She
replies to the question of her brother Laban and her mother whether she is
willing to accompany the man with a single decisive word "Eileich" – I will go! (ibid. 58), thereby foiling the family's attempts to reject the
marriage. As did Abraham in his time, she too answers the voice that calls her
to leave and to go, she too doing so without hesitation. Unlike the other
matriarchs, she is the one who takes the active step, leaves home and family,
and goes to the unknown, to Yitzchak.
this story we read of the first marriage in the Bible. Actually, this is
Scripture's most detailed source on the process of marriage – the conditional
betrothal, the engagement, dowry, and the entry of the woman into her new home3.
Matters seem to unravel arbitrarily, but the prayers of the servant and the
wonderous – almost completely according
to plan – developments hint at the divine intervention from behind the
curtains. Bethuel and Lavan say to the servant: "The matter was decreed by
the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good" (ibid. 50). With all this, we, the readers avidly follow the
developments (mainly because we are acquainted with Lavan's nature later on in
the story…), wondering and hoping along with the servant of Abraham.
first blush, before us is a match of convenience, a political marriage, between
two households, no different from like matches arranged throughout the
generations. Despite this, the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivkah was not just a
diplomatic union, it was also story of love. In the chapter's final passage
appear four verbs which indicate development and deepening of the tie between
the two: "Yitzchak then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and
he took Rivkah as his wife. Yitzchak loved her, and thus found comfort after
his mother's death" (ibid
brought her" – first, Yitzchak brings Rivkah to his home, or, more
correctly, to his mother's tent as per
custom, and then immediately "he
took her", meaning that they had conjugal relations. Following this,
comes "and he loved her",
as a man loves his wife, the relations become more personal and intimate, to
the point where "[Yitzchak] found
comfort after his mother's death"4. This last
expression is tantalizing, leaving an opening for fertile commentary; perhaps
it was this comforting, furthered by love, which enabled Yitzchak to forgive
his father and later to bury him together with his brother, Ishmael.
my eyes, the love of Yitzchak and Rivkah is a true love story, the first to
appear in the Bible. In all Scripture we find only two more explicit examples
of matrimonial love stories – Yaakov loving Rachel (Bereishit 29:19-30), and Elkana loving Chana (I Samuel 1:5)5. It should be noted that, even though we are witness to
Rivkah's activism and enthusiasm in leaving home and setting out on a new path
with the Abraham's servant, we do not hear about her feelings towards Yitzchak.
But this should not surprise us, for the Bible rarely tells us about a woman's
love for a man6.
this, it seems that Rivkah does experience strong emotion which strikes – perhaps
only for a moment – at the first meeting of the couple: The cameras focus on
Yitzchak coming from Be'er Lahai Roi, the sun is setting, Yitzchak walks in the
fields (to contemplate, or, as our Sages interpreted, to pray). The man, who
experienced a terrible trauma and has recently lost his mother, he raises his
eyes from his thoughts, and behold, a caravan of camels. Perhaps he has no idea
that it brings his ordained spouse7. The camera now focuses on
Rivkah, she, too, raising her eyes at that moment of destiny, her face towards
her new chosen path. And Behold! she sees the man, Yitzchak. Rivkah does not
yet know that this is her intended groom but she is overwhelmed with
maiden who did not 'lose her cool' when the stranger approached her at the well
nor when facing her utilitarian family, momentarily slips. The camera follows
her as she falls from the camel. It seems that Rivkah is perplexed by her own
spontaneous reaction, and therefore she asks the servant in tones of princely
pride: "Who is that man walking
in the field towards us?" (65). Upon receiving the answer, she modestly covers her face
and behaves as befits a young bride. The covering of the face is also Rivkah's
entry into the role which has been ordained for her, but this momentary twinkle
of an eye, this moment of wonder and loss of control, is one of the world
literature's marvelous moments.
and Rivkah are the only couple among the patriarchs of the nation who were
monogamous. Despite the fact that in Yitzchak's later years Rivkah exploited
his weakness and deceived him, they are described as a togetherness couple.
When it became clear that Rivkah was barren, "Yitzchak pleaded with the
Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren" (25:11).
The Bible will later tell us about the love of Yaakov and Elkana for their
wives, but their behavior towards them are somewhat less than impressive – Yaakov
evinces no empathy for Rachel's pain, and Elkana comforts Chana in an unrefined
and insensitive manner. Yitzchak, on the other hand, takes an active and
supportive approach and prays on behalf of his wife. His prayer is answered but
the prophecy about the two nations in Rivkah's womb is given to Rivkah alone.
young woman was, indeed, "very beautiful" (ibid. 16)[Translator's note: The Hebrew for the quoted phrase may be literally read
"was of good seeing"] may apply not only to her physical beauty, but
also to her amazing foresight, which well-availed her when Yitzchak's eyesight
dimmed. But that rare moment of mutual rising of eyes, that fleeting moment,
was a moment capable of disrupting plots and plans. What exactly the two felt
at that meeting we cannot know, but it is clear that that moment penetrates the
development of events and is indifferent to the value of royal weddings and
national history. It halts for a fraction of a second the story of two spouses
from whom came two nations, two nations who continue until this very day the
separation of one from the other. The mutual raising of eyes describes a moment
containing eternity, a moment which acknowledged neither covenants nor
genealogy nor historical processes. But nations who have at the core of their
narrative a raising of eyes such as this, may most certainly expect moments of
looking clearly and confidently ahead.
Comparison of the different versions offers insight into the servant's intentions.
For example, the fact that Abraham sent him to his 'land and birthplace'
(Bereishit 24:4), whereas the servant, in repeating the vow imposed by his
master says: "… to the house of my father shall you go and to my family,
and take a wife for my son" (ibid.38). The servant's goal is to convince
the family that the match is divinely decreed. It is interesting to note that
from among the three locations which Abraham is commanded to depart (ibid.
12:1) Abraham mentions the first two, whereas the servant mentions only the
third and most personal.
We read earlier that Abraham prayed for the king of Gerar (Bereishit 20:17),
but the exact wording of his supplication is not revealed. Abraham's attempt to
prevent God from destroying Sdom (18:22) may be considered a prayer – this kind
of confrontation is considered by many to be the essence of prayer, but
Abraham's words are not formulated in liturgical fashion.
3. Some argue that the custom of the bridal veil is
based upon Rivkah covering her face upon seeing Yitzchak (ibid. 65) but that
seems to me more a spontaneous reaction of confusion and excitement. On the
story of Rivkah's matchmaking as an archetype for Biblical betrothal stories,
see: Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, trans. into Hebrew by Shoshana
Tsingel, Tel Aviv, 5745.
We are reminded of H.N. Bialik's poem "Gather me beneath your wings, and
be to me mother and sister". True love is multi-faceted love in which the
beloved fulfills varied functions.
Other instances of a man loving a woman can hardly be called true love stories.
For example, Amnon who 'loved' [and subsequently raped] Tamar (II Kings 13:1).
Our Sages termed his love "ahavah
ha'teluya b'davar' – conditional love, but it seems to me that such a sick
emotion cannot be called love, nor can Solomon's infatuation with foreign women
(I Kings 11:1) be described as true love. See also II Chronicles 11:21 and
The love of Michal, daughter of Saul, for David is an exception. (I Samuel
7. Perhaps we may surmise that Yitzchak's love was not "love at first
sight" – it was the camels that Yitzchak saw, not the maiden. Love ripened
Marx teaches Liturgy and Midrash at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem
Is is permisible to criticize the actions of Tsaddikim?
Said Rabi Shmuel bar
Nahmani in the name of Rabi Yochanan: Three made improper requests, two were
answered properly, and one was answered improperly – Eliezer servant of Avraham, and Shaul ben
Kish, and Yiftach HaGiladi. Eliezer, servant of Avraham, as is written (Bereishit 24) "May it be that
the maiden to whom I say: Pray lower your pitcher etc." Even if she
were to be crippled, even blind!? Nonetheless, he was answered properly, and
(Bavli Taanit 4a)
One may not practice
divination, as is written "You are
not to practice divination." What is divination? For example, those
who say, "Because my bread fell from my mouth or my staff from my hand, I
will not go to such and such a place today because if I do go, I will not
succeed in my affairs" or "Because a fox passed on my right, I will
not leave my house today, for if I go out a scoundrel will harm me". Or
those who hear a bird chirp and say: "It will be so and not so",
"It will be advantageous to so and bad to do otherwise", and those
who say "Slaughter this chicken who crowed at night", "Slaughter
this hen who crowed like a rooster", and so one who devises omens for
himself, "If such and such will happen to me, I will do so and so, and I
will not be harmed", or "I will not do as Eliezer servant of Avraham", and all similar cases, all this is forbidden, and whoever acts
in accordance with any of the above, is to be flogged.
(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idol Worship 11:4)
Critique (of above Rambam) by RaAVad: "…and so one who devises omens for himself, "If such
and such will happen to me…" Said Avraham (Raavad):
This is a great mistake. This is permissible, yea, permissible. It is possible
that he (Rambam) was mislead by what he read "Every divination which is
not like that of Eliezer and Yehonatan is not considered divination", and
he construed this as constituting a prohibition, but such is not the case. This is what was meant: One should not depend
on this, and how could he attribute this
sin to such tsaddikim?! If they were present, they would have conducted a pulsa d'nura (fiery lashes) against him.
Yitzhak had come from where you come to the Well of the Living-One
had gone to bring Hagar to Avraham so that he could marry her.
(Rashi, Bereishit 24:62)
(Bereishit Rabba) This is Hagar, and she was called
Ketura because her behavior was pleasant like incense [translator's note – the
word Ketura is related to ketoret – incense), and she closed her portal
and had no intimate relations from the day she left Avraham.
(Rashi, Bereishit 25:1)
"Avraham married three
women, Sara – daughter of Shem, Ketura – daughter of Yefet, and Hagar – daughter
of Ham." (Yalkut
Shimoni, Iyov, Chap.8, 904)
According to this agada, Avraham's
three wives belong to the three races recognized by the Bible, as was destined
for Avraham: "As for me, here, my
covenant is with you, so that you will become the father of a throng of
17;2). In this way, the midrash chooses to
teach us that the significance of father Avraham in human history is universal,
and that recognition of God which he established in the world, and that true
faith which Avraham was the first to espouse, relate to – and are open to – all
the races of humankind. This was accomplished through his three wives,
daughters of Shem, Ham, and Yefet.
(Leibowitz, "Seven Years of Discussions on Parashat
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