Summary: Hayei Sarah is the 5th parasha in the Book of Bereishith. It records the final acts in the life of Abraham the Patriarch. The main stories both involve negotiations; purchasing a burial plot for Sarah and finding a wife for Isaac.
1st Aliyah: Sarah lived to be 127 years old, dying in Hebron. Unprepared for her demise, Abraham sat in mourning before beginning a 3-step negotiation to purchase burial ground. He called on the local tribe of Het who welcomed him with honour making all their land available. Next, he asked just for the double cave (Ma’arat HaMah’pela) owned by Efron ben Tsohar who offered the field and the cave ‘for free’. Realising Efron’s true intent to sell a much larger piece of land, Abraham agreed the exorbitant price of 400 silver shekels.
2nd Aliyah: In an extended description of ownership transfer, Abraham waited until the cave was in his possession before burying Sarah. Concerned by his own mortality, next he set out to find a wife for Isaac. His elderly servant (Eliezer) was sworn not to take of the women of Cana’an, but instead to return to Abraham’s birthplace to find a suitable bride. Abraham called on the Almighty to send an Angel to aid the servant’s success. Should the woman not agree to relocate to Cana’an, the oath would lapse.
3rd Aliyah: The servant left in a caravan of 10 camels to the town of Nahor arriving at a well as they were drawing water for the evening. Stipulating to the Almighty thathesed (kindness) would identify the girl destined to marry Isaac, his prediction soon unfolded exactly as conceived. The woman would offer water to him and his animals and be of the correct lineage.
As Rebekah descended to the well with her water jug, he ran to ask for a drink. She offered it then proceeded to water his camels. Giving her a gold ring and two gold bracelets, he enquired of her family and if there was place in her home for overnight guests. Discovering Rebekah was a grand-daughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor, he bowed in thanks to the Almighty.
4th Aliyah: Astounded by his rapid success, the servant continued to bless G-d as Rebekah’s brother Laban rushed out to greet and welcome him into their home. They found place for the camels to rest and a feast was prepared. Before eating, the servant insisted on re-telling his miraculous story – from being dispatched by Abraham to giving Rebekah the jewelry, concluding again with praises for the Almighty. He then asked if the family would consent to Rebekah becoming Isaac’s wife, and when they agreed, he bowed once more to the Almighty.
5th Aliyah: More gifts were distributed to Rebekah, her brother and mother, then they all ate, drank and went to bed. In the morning the servant asked permission to leave immediately with Rebekah. But there was some hesitation, until it was agreed to ask Rebekah – who consented. They headed back to Cana’an with Rebekah, her nursemaid, the servant and his retinue. On the threshold of leaving her homeland, the family blessed Rebekah to become the mother of myriads.
They journeyed without incident until reaching the Negev where Isaac was going to meditate in the fields. Spying her future husband from the distance, Rebekah covered her face with a veil. Isaac, who was Informed of all that occurred, brought Rebekah into his mother’s tent where they became husband and wife. Isaac loved Rebekah finding solace from his mother’s death.
6th Aliyah: Abraham had a concubine who bore him 6 additional sons. To avoid future argument, he gave Isaac the inheritance and sent the remaining children away, laden with gifts, during his lifetime. Abraham died aged 175 and was buried by Isaac and Ishmael in the Ma’arat HaMah’pela. G-d blessed Isaac who continued to live in Be’er La’hai Ro’i.
7th Aliyah: Ha’yei Sarah concludes with the list of Ishmael’s 12 descendants. Ishmael died aged 137 having dwelled across a vast territory spread from Egypt to Assyria.
Comment: There’s a well-known saying that ‘we live life forward but only understand it when looking backward’. Those fortunate to be born in an affluent western culture, are raised on the notion that we can become anything our hearts desire.
As children, we see our lives as a clean sheet of paper waiting to write-in the details. Choices are made for us by those who care most deeply for our well-being; what schools to attend, sports to take-up, volunteer activities to be a part of. Eventually, as we get older, the weight of those decisions and experiences refines further our next set of choices. What university will we attend, whom will we marry, where will we settle to live, when will we begin having children. And, once again, that sets into place a new set of choices.
But, for most of us, it’s only decades later, recognising ‘the days of the years of our lives’ are limited, that we begin to weigh what is important and what legacy we wish passed forward to the next generation. Those brave enough to glance back at the different stages to take an assessment will ask how have we used our precious blessings and to whom have we made a difference.
In Parshat Ha’yei Sarah, Abraham was faced with the need to take stock, to find a place of rest that would honour his late wife and to put into motion a trans-generational means for conveying G-d’s promises. To our great surprise, the person entrusted to succeed Abraham was not Isaac but Rebekah. Her embodiment ofHesed in a culture focused on personal gain, made her the genuine choice to continue G-d’s Providence – to help found a nation that would bring spirituality to an unrefined world.