21st Century P’shat: 1-2 minute divrai Torah for each aliyah

Chayei Sarah

  1. Why would Ephron offer the burial plot as a gift only to name an excessive price moments later? And why would Avraham reject the gift, but pay the excessive price? What if Ephron (like the Hebronites) genuinely saw Avraham as a Prince of G-d. The gift of land can earn them eternal merit. When Avraham refuses, he does so because he doesn’t want the locals to have that merit. At that point, the locals aren’t selling the land, they are selling the merit of having given Avraham a deal. The price for losing merit – in terms of cold, hard, cash – is very high indeed.
  2. Avraham’s last two major actions are to bury his wife and find his son a wife. These are actions that commemorate the past (so effectively that we remember it) and ensure the future. But they are intertwined. The future is about the land, but he intertwines it to the past (Sarah) and the past is about his family, but he intertwines it to the future (the life of his descendants). The connection to timelessness is a key aspect of Kedusha and these actions ensure the timelessness of Avraham’s life.
    1. Isn’t it odd that the servant determines where Yitzchak goes and who he marries? I’d suggest the servant has the role of Alfred of Batman. His relationship to Yitzchak may well be stronger than Avraham’s. Avraham has the first ‘loving’ relationship with Yitzchak and loving relationships in Torah are often troubled.
  3. There are questions raised about Eliezer’s “test” for Hashem (if she does x, then I know she’s the one). Some say it was forbidden, others say it was permissible. But it wasn’t a test. If we look at the prior reading we see that Hashem’s angel accompanies Eliezer. He’s there to help, and Eliezer is simply telling him what’s needed. And the characteristic that Eliezer is looking for is the one Avraham has – a joy in serving others.
  4. Lavan and Betuel both say “The matter stemmed from Hashem, we can say to you neither good nor bad.” Later, when Lavan is chasing Yaacov, Hashem commands Lavan in the same way. Where does this concept come from? Why can’t he say good? The answer is in Lavan’s introduction: he ran to the man upon seeing the gifts and says ‘come, oh blessed of Hashem.’ When Lavan speaks good, he desecrates Hashem’s name through deceit and greed. When he speaks ill, he desecrates the name of the person he is speaking to.
  5. Here we see Rebecca has many servants, so why was she drawing water? Earlier, it says that “the women would come to draw water.” Not the slaves or maid servants, but the women. This is hard work. Looking forward, Yaacov had to roll a rock off a well which was intended to stop theft, but Rachel came to water the sheep. Moshe has to protect Yitro’s seven daughters because they would be driven from the well on a daily basis, but they would draw water – the source of life. The pattern remains. Holy women draw water. It is indicative of the health of this time and place that all the women go to the well.
  6. Yitzchak’s father dies, Hashem blesses him and he moves back to Be’er Lachai Ro’i. What is this place? It is the first place where Hashem answers a prayer. Not Avraham’s, but Hagar’s. Like Avraham’s prayer, Hagar’s is unspoken. Hashem sees what is needed and provides it. Yitzchak goes here perhaps shattered by the Akeidah. But he has left before meeting Rivkah. Why? His unspoken need was not addressed. And then he is literally thinking profoundly in the face of twilight. He is desperate. He raises up his eyes, perhaps towards heaven, and Rivka appears. His prayer is answered. Why, however, does he move back after his father’s death?
    1. If we look at the four unspoken prayers we see a pattern. Hagar runs from oppression, but really wants status (thus looking down on Sarah). Hashem answers her unspoken (and perhaps unknown) need by promising her Yishmael will be important. Avraham looks at S’dom and is enthralled by the scene of destruction. Hashem recognizes his need and Lot is rescued.  Yitzchak is unmoored from this world and Rivka fills his unknown need. And Yaacov is facing an uncertain future and the ladder fills his need.
    2. In each of these cases the Avot, perhaps unintentionally, open up a pathway in time for prayer. In these cases, they pray as we do – we pray more like Eliezer or Malchitzedek. But they create (perhaps even passively) an avenue for connection to Hashem that continues to exist each morning, afternoon and evening.
    3. My brother Isaiah mentions that Avraham is the only man in Chumash who gets to retire. He passes his test early and is rewarded with a peaceful and long retirement. Others must be challenged and produce their entire lives.
  7. In a flash, we see Yishmael’s descendants: the true offspring of Hagar’s prayer. Yishmael also prays successfully. But he passes in a moment. Why? Perhaps because when he contends it is with his brothers, not with Hashem. Hashem’s relationship with the chosen family, shown with Avraham and reemphasized with Yitzchak, is meant to be more complex.