This Week’s Torah Portion: Chayei Sarah

camels abraham

camels abrahamName: Chayei Sara (The Life of Sarah)

Reading: Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

Haftara: Kings 1 1:1 – 1:31

Parsha Summary – Chayei Sarah

Abraham Buys the Cave of the Patriarchs

Aged 127, Sarah dies in Kiryat Arba (which the Bible says is Hebron). Abraham asks the local Hittites for a place to bury her. They offer their tombs; Abraham asks them to speak to Ephron on his behalf as he wants to buy Ephron’s field which includes a cave, Ma’arat HaMachpelah. Ephron offers the field and cave for free, but Abraham insists on ascertaining its value and paying in full (400 silver shekels). Abraham buries Sarah in Ma’arat HaMachpelah (today, known as the Cave of the Patriarchs).

Abraham’s Servant Finds a Wife for Isaac

camelsAbraham is elderly, so makes his steward swear that he will return to Abraham’s homeland to find a wife for his son Isaac. He reassures him that if the woman he finds won’t leave Haran, he is released from his vow. The servant leaves with ten camels and some of Abraham’s wealth. He arrives in Nahor and lets the camels drink from the wells there.

He prays that God will give him a sign: when he asks for a drink, the girl should offer to water him and all his camels. Sure enough, the beautiful Rebecca (Abraham’s great-niece, and Isaac’s second cousin) arrives and gives water to the servant and the camels.The servant gives her jewelry; she offers him a place to sleep.

Laban Welcomes the Servant

jewels chayei sarahRebecca’s brother Laban welcomes in Abraham’s servant and tells him that he has made space for the camels. The servant settles the animals but refuses hospitality for himself until he has explained why he’s there. He explains his mission to find a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s homeland. Rebecca and her family consent to the marriage, and the servant rewards her and her family with gifts of jewels and gold.

Rebecca and Isaac Meet

Rebecca and Abraham’s servant head back to Canaan. As they approach, Isaac is in a field; he sees camels approaching. Rebecca veils herself before she meets Isaac, who gives her Sarah’s tent upon their marriage. Isaac loves Rebecca and is comforted after his mother’s death.

Abraham’s Legacy

Abraham marries Keturah and their children are listed. Abraham bequeaths his fortune to Isaac and gives gifts to his concubines’ children. He dies aged 175 and is buried by Isaac and Ishmael in the Cave of the Patriarchs with Sarah. Ishmael’s descendants are listed; he dies aged 137.

Torah Takeaway

chayei sarah The two key messages of Chayei Sarah are honesty and generosity. Abraham insists on paying in full for Sarah’s burial place; he insists that his servant swear to find Isaac’s future wife from his homeland; and he follows through on his promise to give Isaac everything he had, in spite of the other children he had later with Keturah.

Some of the Bible’s lessons are hidden, but this one is staring us straight in the face: honesty is everything. We shouldn’t go back on our promises, cheat, or take from others for free, because we are nothing without our integrity.

Similarly, generosity. Abraham’s servant wasn’t looking for a beautiful woman, or an intelligent one, or even one who feigned modesty and hid from him. He was looking for someone generous. Without a second thought, Rebecca offered the thirsty stranger water – and drew enough water to satiate not one but ten weary camels.

Her generosity is reinforced by her immediate offer of food and shelter. She selflessly gave time, water, and shelter to someone in need, exemplifying the generous, giving nature that Abraham’s servant sought in his precious charge’s future wife.

Some things never change: thousands of years later, honesty and generosity are still two of the most important values we have.