Saturday 23rd November 2019 25th Cheshvan 5780
PARASHAT CHAYEI SARAH Herschel
GEN 23:1 – 25:18; 1 Kings 1:1 – 31; John 4:3 - 14
Don’t you think that it is somewhat odd that our parasha is called ‘the life of Sarah’ and then, we are immediately informed of her death. As usual, the chazal (Sages) offer some insight.
There is an old Hebrew saying that says, "The righteous in death are considered alive." The roll call of the faithful and righteous ones found in Hebrews 11 is referred to as an “invisible cloud of witnesses” whose testimony is as valid today as it was during their lifetime. Their legacy lives on forever to inspire and provoke the next generation of aspiring righteous ones to greater good deeds which would become the legacy that they would leave behind to inspire future generations. This is the same legacy that lives on in righteous Abraham and Sarah who are the back bone of the Patriarchs, the Fathers!
Yeshua alluded to this in Matt 22. The context was a Sadducee who asked Yeshua a question about resurrection. Now, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead and so this particular individual was not really seeking truth and understanding; he was just trying to entrap Yeshua. He tells Yeshua a story of a woman who husband dies and she marries his brother and it continues for all 7 brothers. And then, the Sadducee asked;
28 "Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her."
Yeshua was too wise to play games with this character and responded accordingly
29 "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.
30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.
31 "But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying,
32 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'?
God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
HaShem is the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and though the Patriarchs are no longer with us, their witness and testimony lives on through Messiah who is the G-d of the living!
Then, we notice that Abraham and Sarah’s trusting faithfulness in HaShem is sharply contrasted against that of Adam & Eve who failed in Eden by eating of the forbidden fruit. They were cast out from G-d’s Presence and their act of rebellion left a legacy of sin and separation from nearness to G-d.
In comparison, Abraham and Sarah brought unity and through their lives – at pivotal moments – they united the heavens above and the earth below through their obedience to God's Torah, even before Torah was handed down at Mount Sinai. Their faith in HaShem created the fertile soil for the Kingdom of G-d to invade our worldly reality which climaxed at Mount Sinai with the giving and receiving of Torah and then of course, with the coming of Yeshua! In all these instances, we see this intermingling of heaven and earth. And then, Abraham’s servant Eliezier (El-Azar – the servant of the Lord – is tasked by Abraham to find a wife for the son of promise, Yitzchak (Isaac):
3 and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth , that you will not take a wife for my son from
the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell;
4 but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac."
Firstly, notice that our God is the ‘God of heaven and earth’. The "God of heaven (where the righteous dwell) and God of the earth" – where we live!
Psalm 146:5 - 7
5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his
6 the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He remains
7 executing justice for the oppressed, giving food to the hungry. The LORD sets the
Rabbi B.S. Jacobson made an interesting comment in his commentary on this portion. He suggested Parashat Chayai Sarah concentrates on 2 basic traits of our forefathers. They are significant because, suggest Rabbi Jacobson, “the events of the Patriarchs are omens for their sons”. The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Mainom also known by the acronym, Maimonides) agrees with this:
“Ma’aseh avot siman le-banim,”
“The happening of the fathers is an omen for the children.”
R. Pinchas said in the name of R. Hoshaya the Great:
The Holy One, Blessed be He said to our patriarch Avraham, “Go and pave the way before your children.” Thus, you find that everything that is written of Avraham is written of children as well. Of Avraham it is written, “And there was a famine in the land” (Bereishit 12:10), and of Israel it is written, “For these two years, the famine is in the midst of the land” (ibid. 45:6). Of Avraham it is written, “And Avram went down to Egypt to sojourn there” (ibid. 12:10), and of Israel it is written “And our fathers went down to Egypt” (Bamidbar 20:15). Of Avraham it is written, “To sojourn there” (Bereishit 12:10), and of Israel it is written, “To sojourn in the land we have come” (ibid. 47:4). Of Avraham it is written, “For the famine was severe in the land of Canaan” (47:4),2 and of Israel it is written, “And the famine was severe in the land” (43:1)… (Bereishit Rabba, Vilna, Parashat Lekh Lekha 40)
R. Yehoshua of Sikhnin said:
The Holy One, Blessed be He, gave an omen to Avraham: every incident which befell him befell his children. How so? He chose Avraham from all of his father’s house, as it says, “You are Lord, the God, You Who chose Avram and took him out from Ur Kasdim, and you made his name Avraham” (Nechemya 9:7), and He chose his children from seventy nations, as it says, “For a holy people are you to Lord your God, and you Lord your God chose to be a treasured people, from all the peoples upon the face of the earth” (Devarim 14:2). To Avraham it is said, “Go for yourself” (Bereishit 12:1), and to his children it says, “I will bring you up from the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites…” (Shemot 3:17). To Avraham it is said, “And I will bless you and make your name great, and you will be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you” (Bereishit 12:2-3), and to his children it says, “God shall bless you” (Bamidbar 6:24). To Avraham it is said, “And I shall make you a great nation” (Bereishit 12:2), and to his children it says, “And what great nation” (Devarim 4:8)…3 (Midrash Tanchuma, Warsaw, Parashat Lekh Lekha 9)
It appears that in each of these two homilies, the nature of the link between the ancestors’ actions and the experiences of their descendants is different. According to the midrash in Bereishit Rabbah, the connection between the progenitor and the progeny is the connection of cause and effect. The father – in a conscious, intentional way - influences the future of his children by his acts: “Go and pave the way…” In other words, the parent has the capacity to influence the experiences of the children.
The view of R. Yehoshua of Sikhnin in Midrash Tanchuma is different: we are not talking about a conscious or wilful act of the father, but rather information given to the father about his seed — “an omen… that everything which happened to him happened to his children.” What befalls the father is a siman, an omen, a portent.
The examples cited are not those in which the ancestors are active; rather, events that happen to the ancestor are an allusion, a portent of the future which will befall his children. In other words, the Avot, the Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, could have realized that what occurred to them, would happen to their descendants in after them. According to this interpretation, the ancestor does not influence history in a conscious way, but one may predict and foretell history based on the ancestor’s experiences.
Therefore, the verses will elaborate on the narrative of the journeys, digging wells, and other incidents, and one may be led to think that these things are extraneous and purposeless, but they all come to teach of the future. When a prophecy of the Patriarchs comes true through these occurrences, he must think of the matter decreed to come upon his seed as a result.
And so, for example, The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman also known by the acronym, Nachmanides) specifies points of comparison between Isaac’s exile and the Babylonian exile.
Just as Yitzchak leaves the land due to the compulsion of famine and goes to a land which his father settled in the past, the Israelites are similarly destined to go out of their land against their will and go to the land of their fathers’ sojourns, in Babylonia (indeed, we first encounter Avraham in Babylonia, in Ur Kasdim).
Just as Yitzchak’s settlement in Philistines is without affliction, so too, the Babylonian exile is destined to be without subjugation and affliction (the Jews prospered in Babylonia).
Just as the Philistines sent Yitzchak out of their land after he had settled there, the Israelites are similarly destined to be sent out from the Babylonian exile (by the edict of Cyrus the Great).
What does this remind you of?
Well, I immediately thought of Sha’ul’s (Paul’s) midrash in 1 Corinthians 10. Twice, in verse 6 and 10 of 1 Corinthians chapter 10, Paul says ‘now these things happened as examples for us’. What things? Well, Sha’ul specifically infirms of the four ‘sins’ that caused the bones of that first generation that exited Egypt, to lie scattered in the wilderness. He prefaces these 4 sins by saying that ‘we wouldn't crave evil things, just as they did’ (1 Cor 10:6).
Do not be idolaters
And let's not commit sexual immorality
And let's not test the Lord, as some of them did
And let's not grumble, as some of them did—
And then, Paul declares that: “these things happened to them as an example, and it was written down as a warning to us—on whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11)
And, just in case you think that you are okay and that none of those sins are weaknesses in your own life, Sha’ul adds in verse 12:
“Therefore, let the one who thinks that he stands watch out that he doesn't fall”. I love and appreciate this particular verse, for it reminds us that we must guard our hearts and our actions day-by-day. Never presume that you yourself will never fall prey to these or other similar sins. Be alert! Walk circumspectly for we are living in days where evil is called good, and good, evil. Study the Word. Pray. Worship the LORD. Be in fellowship.
1 Sam 2:9
He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
"'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully;
We must learn from all these incidents recorded in Torah because these contain universal principles and lessons, applicable to all believers. In other words, we learn from not only our mistakes but also, from the mistakes of others. As someone named Harold J. Smith remarked: “More people would learn from their mistakes. If the were not so busy denying them”.