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Torah Sparks

Parashat Haye Sarah
November 15, 2014 – 22 Heshvan 5775

Annual (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18): Etz Hayim p. 127; Hertz p. 80
Triennial (Genesis 24:10 – 24:52): Etz Hayim p. 132; Hertz p. 83
Haftarah (I Kings 1:1 – 31): Etz Hayim p. 143; Hertz p. 90

Prepared by Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum
Charleston, SC

Sarah dies; Abraham mourns for her, then purchases the Cave of Machpelah to bury her. Abraham asks his servant to find Isaac a wife in the land of Haran. After a long journey and much prayer, the servant finds a kind woman who feeds him and his camel. The servant receives permission to take the woman, Rebecca, to Be’er Sheva to marry Isaac. Rebecca’s presence is a great comfort to Isaac. Later, we read that Abraham married again and had more children. Abraham dies and is buried by Isaac and Ishmael in Machpelah.

Theme #1: To Serve and Protect

And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham: Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water: let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’ -- let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master.” (Genesis 24:12-14)

Abraham’s servant, on his way to find a wife for Isaac, seeks Divine assistance to ensure that he brings home Isaac’s perfect match. Eliezer wanted to put the maiden to the test to see not only whether she had good qualities but also whether she would use her virtues with wisdom and understanding. Accordingly, he asked her to give him a drink of water from that pitcher with which the water was drawn up from the well. What, he wondered, would she do with the water that would be left in the pitcher after he had drunk from it? If she were to take it home, she would not be acting wisely, for it should occur to her that he might be ill and that it might be unsafe for others to drink the water that came in contact with his mouth. On the other hand, if she were to pour it out, it would be an insult to the stranger and would show that she was lacking in tact. The proper course for her to follow would be to say, “Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.” In this manner, there would be no insult to the stranger, nor would other people be exposed to danger by drinking water that might be contaminated. If she chose the alternative, it would be proof that she had not only good qualities but also sufficient intelligence to make the right decisions in unforeseen situations. -- Rabbi Joseph Dov Halevi Soloveitchik of Brisk

I ask two things from You. I endured a terrible blow from Abraham when he said that I was cursed and that his blessed Isaac could not marry my daughter. Since I can no longer hope my daughter will marry him, at least to see to it that I find a good match for Isaac. Be present before me today. The second thing I ask is that you do it for Isaac’s sake. Act kindly with my master Abraham. -- Chupath Eliahu

Abraham’s servant seeks nothing dramatic from his master’s God. The activities set for Rebekah are all natural enough, even if they call for some sustained effort to water a caravan of ten camels. He calls for no dramatic demonstrations of God’s power, let alone direct intervention. His words suggest, however, that Abraham’s servant is willing to place the course and success of his mission in the hands of Yahweh, the God of his master. Having made the journey to the home and kin of Abraham, the initiative is now Yahweh’s -- or Rebekah’s. For it is she and not Yahweh who appears, at just the apt moment. -- W. Lee Humphreys, The Character of God in the Book of Genesis

Questions for Discussion:

Rabbi Joseph Dov Halevi Soloveitchik of Brisk tries to put himself into the mind of Abraham’s servant, and senses that the servant expects to learn a large amount about Isaac’s potential brides by examining their everyday behavior. Is a person’s everyday behavior the best way to evaluate his/her character? Or does this put too much stock on a small sample of actions?

How does Chupath Eliahu’s paraphrasing of Abraham’s servant’s thoughts change our understanding of the servant’s motivations? Does he seem more selfish than we might have thought? Or do his thoughts regarding Isaac “redeem” him in a way?

Humphreys reveals a disconnect between Abraham’s servant and Abraham’s God. While the servant asks for God’s direct influence, God does not answer directly, but the servant’s prayers are answered by Rebekah. Does it make sense to see Rebekah as God’s direct influence over the events of this episode? Or should we think of God hiding or avoiding the servant’s words, with Rebekah’s appearance at that moment a fortunate coincidence?

Theme #2: The Answer to His Prayers

He had scarcely finished speaking, when Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, the son of Milcah the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder. The maiden was very beautiful, a virgin whom no man had known. She went down to the spring, filled her jar, and came up. The servant ran toward her and said, “Please, let me sip a little water from your jar.” “Drink, my lord,” she said, and she quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and let him drink. When she had let him drink his fill, she said, “I will also draw for your camels, until they finish drinking.” Quickly emptying her jar into the trough, she ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. (Genesis 24:15-20)

Rebekah immediately shows herself to be an attentive and welcoming woman, answering Eliezer's prayers. Rebekah was such a saint that her parents had never even tried to make a match for her. Normally, when there is a daughter in a faraway place, her parents are constantly trying to match her up. But Rebecca was so virtuous that none of the immoral people in the area wanted to have anything to do with her. -- Yafeh Toar

The narrator goes out of his way to give weight to this act by presenting Rebekah as a continuous whirl of purposeful activity. In four short verses, she is the subject of eleven verbs of action and one of speech, going down to the well, drawing water, filling the pitcher, pouring, giving drink. -- Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative

Look, I may be a virgin, but I’m not an idiot. You don’t get to be pushing forty in this town without learning a thing or two about men. First of all: They’re helpless. They cannot do anything for themselves. It’s really quite sad. You know the expression “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”? Actually, you probably don’t know it because, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a man. This is a thing women have been saying for hundreds of years, but it will no doubt be another couple of millennia before (a) it occurs to a man, and (b) he has the wherewithal to write it down. Anyway, the same is true of men, and also camels. … -- Rebecca Dana in Unscrolled, Roger Bennett, ed.

Questions for Discussion:

Yafeh Toar depicts Rebekah’s family as waiting for the perfect circumstance to allow her to marry. Is this a search for the best for their child, or for control over her future? How does this compare to how Rebekah’s brother, Laban, will later try to control the marital futures of his daughters?

Often, when we are motivated, we tend to rush to finish our work. Does Alter’s depiction of a very busy Rebekah show that she is dedicated to her work, or can we see her alacrity as a sign that she understands that her life is about to change forever?

Dana gives voice to a clever Rebekah, a character who sees herself as cleverer than the men (and animals) in her life. How does this interpretation of Rebekah’s character change the way we see her willingness to follow Abraham’s servant and to marry Isaac? Does she speak like a woman who will one day encourage her younger son to deceive Isaac?

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