Tag Archives: Bereishith

Hayei Sarah

SummaryHayei 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.


SummaryVaYera is the 4th parasha in the Book of Bereishith and the second to focus on the life of Abraham and Sarah. It contains the last 4 ‘Tests of Faith’ Abraham endured and the Divine promise to make Abraham a great nation establishing his legacy and direct lineage.

The first Aliyah describes Abraham’s legendary hospitality offered to three Angels, how despite still recuperating from his circumcision, he ran to invite them into his tent to serve them a banquet of fresh meat and flat cakes. One of the Angels informed Sarah would bear a child. She laughed nervously, causing the Almighty to chide Abraham over her disbelief.

The second Aliyah carries on the Angel’s rebuke of Sarah for laughing. Perhaps offended by her denial, they abruptly continued on their mission. G-d and Abraham then entered an audacious ‘negotiation’ about the fate of the cities of Sodom & Gomorrah. Unable to find even 10 righteous men, the cities were slated for destruction and Abraham ‘returned to his place’.

The third Aliyah concerns Lot’s rescue. The avenging Angels arrived in Sodom at night, Lot pressed them to join for dinner where he prepared a ‘party with fresh-baked matzot’. No sooner had they gone to bed then an unruly mob surrounded Lot’s house and demanded the ‘men’ be handed over for immorality. Naively, Lot attempted to appease the crowd, offering them instead his 2 unmarried daughters. The Angels interceded, pulling Lot back into the house and striking the mob with temporary blindness.

Revealing plans to destroy the towns, they pressed Lot to escape. He tried to persuade his married daughters to leave but his son-in-laws made jest. (A shalsheletcantillation note emphasizes even Lot hesitated.) At day-break the Angels had to grasp the hands of Lot, his wife and their 2 unmarried daughters to flee the city, commanding them not to look back. Lot pleaded to re-settle in Mits’har, rather than to take refuge in the nearby mountains.

In the fourth Aliyah the destruction also claimed Lot’s wife who famously ‘looked back’ and turned into ‘a pillar of salt.’ While the family remnant fled to the mountains, the Torah adds that Abraham arose early and watched the plumes of smoke on the horizon. Fearing they were the only human survivors, Lot’s daughters conceived a plan to repopulate a desolate world through impregnation from their father. Moab and Amon were born.

Perhaps in shame, Abraham left the area and settled in Gerar in the Kingdom of Abimelekh, where again Sarah claimed to be his sister and again was abducted into the King’s harem. Visiting Abimelekh in a dream, G-d warned him of his crime, but Abimelekh protested innocence. Summoned to explain himself, Abraham confessed their lack of Fear of G-d made him fear for his life. Showered with gifts, Abraham and Sarah were invited to continue living in Gerar. Abraham prayed for their well-being and once again the people were ‘able to bear children’. The Aliyah ends with the birth of Isaac and his brit milah at 8-days old.

The fifth Aliyah begins happily with the weaning party held for Isaac but soon the painful scenario of Hagar and Ishmael’s banishment followed. Accused of making jest with Isaac, Sarah demanded Ishmael and his mother be expelled. Though troubled, Abraham was guided by G-d to follow Sarah’s wishes, along with the promise Ishmael would also become a great nation. Sent into the desert with only bread and a flask of water on her shoulder, mother & son lost their way and soon ran out of provisions. Hagar cried bitterly as Ishmael languished at the brink of death. An Angel appeared showing them an oasis. Hagar and Ishmael remained in the Pa’ran Desert where Ishamel married an Egyptian woman.

In the sixth Aliyah, Abimelekh and his general Phihol, visited Abraham to request a security oath that would span 3 generations. It was a token of Abraham’s gratitude for being allowed to live locally. Taking the oath, Abraham rebuked Abimelekhwhose servants had stolen Abraham’s wells. Abimelekh professed ignorance of the matter until Abraham set a covenant between them to prove the well of Be’ar Sheva was his uncontested. Abimelekh and his retinue left, Abraham planted a sacred tree and called out to G-d, residing in Philistine lands for many years.

The seventh Aliyah details Abraham’s final test, the Binding of Isaac (Akedat Yitshak). Commanded to take his son Isaac to a place which G-d would reveal, Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, took 2 lads and split-wood. On the third day he saw the distant place and instructed the lads to remain, continuing alone on foot with Isaac, the wood, a fire and a knife.

Asked by his son where was the sacrificial lamb, Abraham replied G-d would provide what was needed. When they arrived, Abraham built an altar, bound up Isaac, placed him on the altar and took the knife. An Angel of G-d called out and stayed his hand, revealing it was now known that by not withholding what was most precious to him, Abraham truly feared G-d. Finding a ram in a thicket, it was offered as a substitute for Isaac.

Abraham called the place the Mountain of G-d’s Fear. The Angel called out a second time from Heaven, blessing Abraham that his offspring would become prolific and be a source of blessing to all other nations. He went back to the lads and they returned to Be’ar Sheba. Parshat VaYera ends with an announcement that his brother Nahor’s wife bore 8 sons and concubine 4 more.

Comment: There is an extreme irony in Parshat VaYera. So many references to jesting, joking, making sport, and laughing occur that the child of a barren 90 year-old post-menopausal woman Sarah was named Yitshak (he laughed). And yet, Isaac’s life is anything but humorous. The only conversation between him and his parents recorded in the Torah occurs when Isaac and his father ascended the mountain. It is limited to a few words. ‘Father?’ asked Isaac, ‘I am here my son’ was Abraham’s response. Names in the Torah were intended to have meaning. I.e. Abraham (a father of many nations), Ishmael (G-d heard him), Noah (the comforter). So, where is the humour in Isaac?

Laughter can serve a multitude of purposes – some immediate and some longer-term. It can be used as much to chase away anxiety as to create happiness. Sarah’s laughter at hearing she would bear a child must have been the former. The mental leaps she would have had to make to roll back the clocks and imagine a time when she was still fertile suggests her laughter may have concealed the physical danger, personal trepidation and yet long-unfulfilled sense of joy. Laughter is meant to put us at ease, to point out the absurdity of our behaviour or beliefs, and sometimes just to lift our spirits.

Isaac’s birth proved that G-d’s Providence prevailed. The laws of nature shouldn’t have allowed it. Yet it was reminiscent of the quotation, ‘The difficult we do immediately, and the impossible takes a bit longer’. Isaac’s birth is a lesson that to the Almighty nothing is impossible. While the humour in Isaac’s name may not have been obvious during his lifetime, across the distance of time it can make us laugh.


SummaryLekh-Lekha is the third parasha in the Book of Genesis. Ten generations passed from Noah to Avram, and a new Era was about to begin. The parashacontains 6 of the 10 trials Avram underwent in the search for and service of the One Divine Being. Avram, renamed Abraham, was the champion of monotheism in the old world. 

The first aliyah contains the test of leaving his country, his place of birth and his father’s house to wander to a land G-d would show him. Once there, he traversed the country setting up altars to G-d in Shekhem and Beit-El, eventually crossing the Negev. No sooner had he settled in Cana’an then famine erupted and Avram had to leave for Egypt – his second test. Fearing for his life In Egypt due to his wife’s beauty, he asked Sarai to say she was his sister.

The second aliyah describes Avram’s next test – his wife was taken captive by Pharaoh whose house and family were struck by plague until Sarai was released. Pharaoh quickly had them escorted out of the country. The three, Avram, Sarai & Lot, left Egypt laden with much newly acquired wealth. Returning to Beit-El, Avramagain called out to G-d.

The third aliyah details the squabble between Avram and Lot now unable to live together because of their wealth. A quarrel between the shepherds of the two men lead to them going their separate ways. Lot chose the Plains of Sodom & Gemorrah, and Avraham the higher ground of Cana’an. G-d promised Avram his descendants would be numerous as the ‘dust of the earth’. Avram moved to Hebron where he built another altar to G-d.

The fourth aliyah provides the background and the history of the battle of the Four versus the Five Kings and Avram’s intervention to rescue nephew Lot. With only 318 men, Avram defeats the prevailing armies and rescues Lot. The King of Sodom went to meet Avram. Malki-Sedek, the High Priest of On, did the same offering bread and wine and bestowing on Avram a blessing from the most High. This was Avraham’s fourth test.

In the fifth aliyah the King of Sodom asked for the return of war spoils taken from his city and Avram complied. Afterwards, G-d appeared to Avram in a vision promising him much reward. But Avram complained nothing was of consequence as long as he had no offspring. Then the word of G-d came to Avram that his progeny would be as numerous as the ‘stars in the Heavens’.

In the sixth aliyah Avram was commanded by G-d to offer a set of sacrifices. He divided the animals, placing the carcass halves opposite each other. Overcome by fatigue, Avram fell into a trance of fear and trembling where he saw his offspring would be strangers in a strange land, oppressed for 400 years, until being freed and leaving with great inheritance. This became known as the Covenant of the Pieces in which G-d promised Avram to give vast amounts of land to his offspring – from the Egyptian river to the Euphrates – an area occupied by 10 older nations.

The sixth aliyah continues with the barren Sarai’s decision to offer Hagar her hand-maiden as a surrogate mother to Avram. Hagar quickly fell pregnant and belittled her mistress. Sarai mistreated her until Hagar fled to a desert oasis. There, an angel found her, encouraged her to return to Sarai, and promised her she would have a son and her offspring would be prolific. The angel told her to name the baby Yishmael. She called the place of her encounter Be’er Lahai Ro’i. Hagar gave birth in the year Avram was 86 years old. This was his 5th test.

When Avram was 99, G-d appeared again charging him to ‘walk in front of G-d and be pure’. His name was changed from Avram to Avraham (father of many nations) by G-d who promised Avraham many Kings would descend from him.

The last aliyah describes a new covenant between G-d and Avraham’s descendants. Brit milah (circumcision) would be an everlasting covenant enabling Avraham to merit possession of the land. At 8 days old, all male children were to be circumcised.

G-d declared to Abraham that Sarai’s name would be changed to Sarah and that she would bear a child. When he laughed in disbelief, G-d told Abraham the child should be called Yitshak. Yishmael would become a great nation of 12 princes but the covenant would be established with Yitshak. When G-d finished speaking, Avraham’s 6th test was to circumcise himself, Yishmael and all the male members of Avraham’s household. This occurred the year Avraham was 99 and Yishmael 13.


SummaryNoah is the second parasha in the Book of Genesis. Ten generations passed from Adam to Noah and the world became unbearably corrupted.

The parasha contains the story of the year-long flood and its aftermath, G-d’s promise never to again destroy the world through water, Noah’s drunkenness and the curse of Cana’an, the proliferation of tribes from Yefet, Cana’an and Shem, the Tower of Babel dispersion and the genealogy of the next 10 generations from Noah to Avram.

In the first aliyah G-d informed Noah that a flood would wipe away all living beings and that, to survive, he should build an Ark (teibah, 300 x 50 x 30 amot). He was told to take his family (wife, 3 sons and 3 daughters-in-law) plus 2 of each living creature and food for them to eat.

The second aliyah contains the final week-long warning. Noah was told to take 7 pairs each of the animals that were ritually pure. G-d explained it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights. Once the waters began to appear, animals gathered of their own volition, and Naoh and his family entered the Ark. On the 17th day of the 2nd month, the waters broke loose and the rains began.

The third aliyah describes the year-long ordeal. After 40 days of rain the Ark rose off the ground to a height of 15 amot above the mountains. It floated on the water 150 days while all life was extinguished below. G-d remembered Noah in the Ark and for 150 more days the waters receded. By the 1st day of the 10th month they could again see the mountain tops.

After another 40 days Noah opened the Ark’s window and sent, successively, a raven and a dove. Unable to find a place to rest the dove returned. Waiting 7 days, he sent the dove again – it returned with an olive branch. Finally, after 7 more days the dove was sent a third time and didn’t return. On the 27th day of the 2nd month the land was dry.

The fourth aliyah describes the survivors leaving the Ark. Noah built an Altar and offered up sacrifices. G-d blessed Noah giving him dominion over all living creatures and conveying the 7 Noahide laws. In the fifth aliyah G-d promised to establish a new covenant with Noah and his family, represented by the Rainbow.

The sixth aliyah begins when Noah planted a vineyard, became drunk and was discovered naked in his tent. Ham’s behaviour toward his father lead to the cursing of Cana’an, Ham’s son. Noah died aged 950. Noah’s sons descendants were listed.

The final aliyah tells the story of the Tower of Babel, the confounding of language and the dispersion. Parshat Noah ends listing the 10 generations from Noah toAvram.

Comment: When reading the parasha, it occurred that G-d’s decision to destroy all humanity except for one representative family has parallels in Moshe’s experience after the Golden Calf. There G-d told Moshe that he would destroy the entire nation of Israel and begin again fresh with Moshe (Exodus 32:10). But in Moshe’s case, he pleaded with G-d and the threat was retracted.

Of course, more than 1500 years passed from Noah’s generation to the days of Moshe in the Midbar. And, likewise did the development of Providential history advance. Avraham, Yitshak and Ya’acob proved themselves worthy of G-d’s repeated covenants and promises. Yet, all was again on the verge of collapse in Moshe’s day.

Perhaps a few lessons can be drawn from this. First, we must not rely on the success of our forebears to protect us against our own generation’s bad behaviour. Second, it is in G-d’s nature to be intolerant of corruption and idolatry. Third, G-d will always chose someone to carry on the mission of humanity – to live a truthful, sanctified life seeking out the Divine Presence. Fourth, humans in a state of ignorance are unable to predict when such destruction might suddenly occur.

Following the logic of the above, how much more should we be striving in our own experience to be like Noah or Moshe rather than the unenlightened masses. Time is precious and constantly running out. We pray to be able to use the days given to us in an appropriate and meaningful way.

[For those who requested it, a .pdf copy of Mashiach Kelaty’s Elul List for Spiritual Improvement can be found here.]


SummaryBereishith is the first parasha in the Book of Genesis. It’s opening chapter describes the first 6 of the 7 days of G-d’s Creation. Chapter 2 introduces Shabbat, describing human innocence, G-d’s command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, and the creation of Adam’s helpmate Eve. Chapter 3 introduces the beguiling serpent, disobedience, a loss of innocence and subsequent banishment from Eden.

Bereishith Chapter 4 identifies the first offspring, Cain & Abel – describing the first fratricide, detailing the birth of the next 7 generations and the emergence of life in the first cities. Chapter 5 lists the ‘Generations of Man’ – lifespans of the 10 generations from Adam until Noah. Chapter 6 reveals the people’s tendency toward corruption and G-d’s regret in having created mankind.

Comment: At the end of Debarim, Moshe ascended Mt Nabo bringing his mission as leader of Bnei Yisrael to a bittersweet end – a career Moshe had only reluctantly accepted 40 years earlier at the Burning Bush. Moshe’s great legacy was in bringing the Torah down from Sinai and teaching it to Bnei Yisrael. His immortality was confirmed through the commitment and investment into spiritual capital.

Nor was his achievement marred by failure to enter the land of Cana’an. In his last words to the Jewish people, Moshe realised no single leader can complete everything, that our lives are precious because they’re finite – we can each only accomplish a fixed amount.

That we immediately begin again with Bereishith is an act of continuity – the maturity of seeing life with all its blemishes from the eye’s of our prophets then re-viewing it from a point of pristine innocence.

While chapter one shows the ideal, from chapter two of Genesis man’s relationship with G-d regrettably betrays his lack of appreciation. The Torah doesn’t tell us ‘why G-d decided to create the world and its inhabitants’. Simply, that when G-d did, each step was deemed ‘good’. As the recipients of life, our role initially was to give thanks.

In contrast, the sketches of sinful behaviour – Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel – foretell the human penchant for harm; to ourselves and to one another. In a world with more than 7 billion people, lack of appreciation, deceit and murder are all too common place. But the root can be found in these early passages.

While Adam hid from G-d in embarrassment of his sin, Cain rebelled, denying it. Lemekh only a few generations later boasted of killing Cain. When one loses connection with G-d, our perspective shifts to personal desires. Sin no longer has the ability to instruct us how we’ve gone wrong.

Human life is defined by time and movement, the cessation of either leads to death.Bereishith shows the creative G-d making something from nothing, separating and dividing, forming and moving. As created beings our highest aspiration is to be like G-d.

May we learn to distinguish between spiritual movement and stagnation, between using time in life-affirming rather than life-denying ways, and may we all be granted opportunity to act and live according to the Divine essence within each of us.

[For those who requested it, a .pdf copy of Mashiach Kelaty’s Elul List for Spiritual Improvement can be found here.]