Following are some of the ideas, insights and interpretations that emerge from our weekly Chumash learning group at the Young Israel of Oceanside, Long Island. We cite sources when possible. Some of our interpretations derive from ideas we may have seen elsewhere, possibly without attribution. Or we may simply have forgotten the source. For this we apologize. We invite your comments, observations and participation.
Unchanging cycle of life as “one generation departs and another generation takes its place”…
Mortality, Mourning, Manners, Money, Machpeilah, Marriage
Opens and concludes with a funeral
Sarah’s dies at 127 years; Avraham mourns Sarah then agrees to pay Efron the Hittite an exorbitant price of 400 silver shekels to purchase the Cave of Machpeilah in Hevron where she is to be buried
Only Parsha named after a woman
Only woman whose name and age are disclosed at the time of her death
Avraham instructs his head servant (presumed to be Eliezer) to travel to Avraham’s previous home in Haran to find a wife for his son Yitzchak
Yitzchak meets and marries Rivkah and is comforted over the loss of his mother
Avraham remarries and gives all his powers of blessing to Yitzchak before he dies at 175 “at a good age, old and satisfied”
Listing of Ishmael’s descendants
Major themes of love for the Holy Land and avoidance of intermarriage
“Hashem is here …Hashem is there…”
Although His Name is not mentioned, God remains in the background influencing events, much as He does throughout the Book of Bereshis. This life lesson for us is that the Hand of God exists even in the mundane. Efron, sought out by Avraham to buy a burial plot for his wife Sarah just happens to be in the crowd. Eliezer, sent by Avraham to find a suitable wife for Yitzchak just happens to encounter Rivkah, who just happens to be Avraham’s great niece.
Knowing what to say
In searching for a suitable burial spot for his recently-deceased wife Sarah in Chevron, Avraham seeks out and deals with Efron the son of Zohar the owner of the Cave of Machpeilah.
Some argue that Avraham was too self-effacing in his negotiations. Benno Jacob, on the other hand, thinks that Avraham acted with dignity and refinement rather than with submissiveness. Avraham acknowledges his legal position as “a stranger and sojourner among you” having none of the property rights available to the citizens. Terms like “buying” and “selling” are not used because gentlemen do not transact business but instead discuss giving each other presents .The local pagans respectfully call him “a prince of God”, in recognition of his unique but strange and separate beliefs and behavior --yet feel warmly and respectfully towards him to consider him “in our midst”. Avraham bows down in acknowledgement of and thanks for their offer to allow Sarah to be buried in even the choicest of graves. Avraham wants a particular cave and asks the people to contact Efron its owner so that Efron will “give” him the Maaras Hamachpelah (cave) for “a full price” (no discount) as a “possession in your midst”. Avraham was a wanderer and occasional visitor, but now the residents begin to understand that what Avraham wants is to buy and to permanently own the land.
Efron, who happens to be sitting in the crowd, announces--using the word “give” three times in one sentence -- that he has given not only the cave at the end of the field but also the field. Though he did not want or ask for the field, Avraham magnanimously insists on paying for the desired cave and the unwanted field. Rather than negotiating the price, Efron says in an offhanded manner: “My lord listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me?” Avraham readily agrees to the exorbitant price for a useless field (the real value was closer to 17 shekels of silver), and pays him on the spot in current coin, with the gathered crowd as witnesses.
The purchase was made in order to both honor and bury Sarah. The transaction also established the first legal claim of the Hebrews to a piece of Eretz Yisrael.
Later, Avraham instructs his trusted servant to travel to his own country and birthplace to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. He did not want Yitzchak to marry a local woman influenced by the abominable idolatrous behavior of the residents of Canaan because the effect on his son would be so powerful that he would easily assimilate into and adopt the behavior of the surrounding nation of Canaan.
Eliezer’s method of selecting a wife for Yitzchak involved a character test to determine her generosity and kindness. Kli Yakar explains that the Rabbinic dictum, “If the bride has beautiful eyes you don’t have to look further” cannot be taken literally but is talking about a women who has a generous disposition, a kind heart, and does good deeds—all of which are encompassed in the phrase, “has beautiful eyes.” Eliezer was looking for a woman who performs acts of chesed (kindness) like providing shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, assistance to the poor. Rivkah turned out to be such a woman.
Rav Acha states “the table talk of the servants of the Patriarchs’ households is more notable (beautiful) than the Torah of their descendants.” The Torah presents a lengthy and seemingly superfluous report of Eliezer’s experiences including his…
• Conversation with Avraham
• Prayer at the well
• Meeting Rivkah
• Being impressed with her actions
• Presenting her with bracelets.
Furthermore, he provides a lengthy recapitulation when he arrives at Rivkah’s home-- but with variations designed to convince his hosts. He…
• Emphasizes Avraham’s wealth
• Says he gave Rivkah the bracelets only after he learned that she was a relative, (when, in fact, he had given it to her before)
• Says he was commanded to find a wife from his father’s relatives (when, in fact, Avraham instructed him only to travel to his previous home).
It is a testament to his wonderful judgment, discretion and devotion to Avraham that inspired him to find the right words to say.
“Trup” (Yiddish for Tea’mim) and the subtleties of the words
The chanting of the Torah texts (cantillations) were introduced by Moshe ben Asher around the year 895. The chants are written and notated in accordance with special signs or marks to complement the letters and vowel points. These notations provide information on the syntactical structure of the text and are a commentary on the text itself, highlighting important ideas musically.They enhance the drama of the Torah and also provide insights.
Efron says “Lo adonee sh’maeni” translated as “no, my lord, listen to me…” The “lo adonee” is separated by a hyphen (making it one unit) and the phrase is chanted with a zakayf katan. On the surface Efron seems respectful and helpful. But, in my view, the structure of his words paints an entirely different picture. The hyphenated phrase lo-adonee is better translated as “my master…NOT”. What Efron really is saying is that he has no respect for Avraham who is “...my NOT- master” (not my master) and demands that Avraham listen to him.
Shalshelet (related to the root word three) appears only four times in the Torah, always on the first word of the verse. It communicates vacillation, a feeling of doubt, anxiety and internal struggle. Avraham sends his household “Chief of Staff” to find a bride for his son Yitzchak (then 40 years old). When he arrives near the city of Nachor in Mesopotamia, Eliezer prays for God’s assistance to succeed in his mission. The word “vayomar “(“and he said”) is accented with the Shalshelet. Eliezer was weighed down by the enormity of his task and by self-doubt. He sincerely desired to serve his master Avraham, but was also conflicted because he wanted Yitzchak to marry his own daughter.
In last week’s Parsha as Lot was preparing to flee Sodom, he hesitated (Vayismahmaw). The Hebrew word is accented with a Shalshelet, underscoring the internal conflict he and others in similar situations experience: The sensible decision to flee vs. fear of the unknown; the familiarity with Sodom; and the loss of assets and lifestyle.
“Sim na yadcha tacas yeraychi” (“place your hand under my thigh”)
…is the symbolic gesture of swearing that Avraham demands when assigning Eliezer the all-important task of finding a wife for his son Yitzchak.
Ibn Ezra views this as a symbol of submission.
The words mean and convey that failure to do what is requested will result in sterility, since children issue from the area of the thigh or loins of their father. Alternatively, it may mean that the children will avenge the act of disloyalty. Thighs may have been viewed as the locus of power because of their proximity to the genitalia.
This oath may have involved touching the genitalia, and the oath’s power derived from swearing on a holy item of commandment (i.e., circumcised male member—which represents a sign of the covenant between Man and God). Today courts use a Bible for the administration of an oath because that Book is considered to be the most holy thing Man possesses. It is the holiest thing between Man and God.
The Latin word for testes is similar to testimony or testify. In ancient Greece testicles of slaughtered animals were used in deciding homicide cases. It has been said that the most ancient way of administering an oath was by placing the hand between the thighs on the genitals. In ancient Roman courts, men took oaths while holding testicles (though some claim this is not true).
“Vayenachem Yitzchak acharei eemo” (“Yitzchak was comforted over the loss of his mother”)
Sandra Gottesman interprets this to mean that finally, after being traumatized by his mother’s death, Yitzchak was able to shake the guilt and grief he felt for having caused her death by agreeing to allow himself to be offered as a sacrifice. Vayenachem is related to the Hebrew root word that means calmness of spirit, equilibrium, peace of mind. He married a woman in his mother’s image and the internal conflicts subsided.
Rabbi Marc Angel notes that during the three years since Sarah’s death, Yitzchak felt alone, felt lost and felt abandoned. No one understood his pain; he had no one to turn to for consolation. He felt unloved and perhaps was even more pained by not having anybody to love. “A loveless life is a tragic life, a life of perpetual mourning.” But when he sees Rivkah from afar when she appears on the scene, he comes to life and experiences love at first sight. With the prospect of loving and being loved once again, Yitzchak is able to move forward with his life instead of wallowing in his misery over an irreversible past.