« Book Report: The Skinner | Main | Book Report: The Postman »

Parshah Chaye Sarah

The fifth Parshah is Chaye Sarah (23:1-25:18), which is confusing, of course, since Chaye Sarah means the Life of Sarah, and the reading opens with her death. Anyway, the parshah starts with Sarah’s death and the negotiation surrounding her burial, and ends with Abraham’s third wife (by tradition, actually, Keturah is another name for Hagar, who returns to him, but this is wishful thinking on the part of rabbis with monogamy filters) and then Abraham’s death and burial. Actually, it’s kind of sweet that Ishmael returns to help his half-siblings bury the old man; I usually forget to put that into the expulsion story.

The bulk of the parshah, though, is the story of Eliezer’s foolish vow, and how it all turned out all right. The story is incredibly evocative, despite leaving out a lot of details. Isaac, now nearly forty, is clearly plunged into depression on the death of his overprotective mother. Abraham’s testy impatience is clear, as is Eliezer’s strange combination of timidity and recklessness. And it’s pretty clear who is going to be wearing the t’fillin in that family; Rebecca is my favorite of the seven Ancestors, and when I ask the Lord to make my Perfect Non-Reader like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, I’m afraid I am thinking “but more like Rebecca.”

Anyway, what leaps out at me is everybody’s deference to Rebecca. In 24:5, Eliezer says “What if the woman doesn’t want to move here?” Then he leaves the selection up to chance, but also up to the actions of the woman, who of course turns out to be Rebecca. Then in 24:39 he repeats that he was worried she wouldn’t want to move. Then, after more or less promising her without asking, her brother and mother (but not her father) remember her, and bring her in and put it to her, and she says yes.

Now, I think that Eliezer got lucky, but it’s also clear that he was looking for a woman who was willing to take a little initiative on her own. So although there’s certainly a Trust-in-the-Lord lesson in this story, there’s also a pretty clearly a lesson that Rebecca kicks ass, and don’t cross her.

OK, the Moments of Decision, where the story could change. Hm... For my own amusement, but unlikely to lead to fruitful discussion, I wonder what it would have been like had Sarah lived and been Rebecca’s mother-in-law. Neither here nor there.

What if Eliezer hadn’t made the stupid vow? What if he had just observed Rebecca’s kind behavior at the well, and then gone in search of Abraham’s relatives, and discovered the coincidence? What meaning would that story have had that would be different?

Also, what if Abraham had sent Isaac along with Eliezer? Or what if in fact Rebecca had wanted to stay in Haran? Could this story have worked out some way to take the emphasis off intermarriage?

Well, that’s all I’ve got today. How about y’all?


Post a comment

Please join in. Comments on older posts will be held for moderation. Don't be a jerk. Eat fruit.