Saturday 11th November 2023 27th Cheshvan 5784
PARASHAT CHAYA SARAH by Joseph Shulam
Genesis 23:1-25:18; 1 Kings 1:1-31; Matthew 1:1-17
This week the reading in the synagogues is called “Chayei Sarah”, the “Life of Sarah”, Genesis 23-25:18. It is the story of Sarah’s death and burial in the Cave of Machpela in Hebron.
Sarah stands out from every other woman in the Bible. She is a woman most involved in every aspect of her husband’s life and activity.
There is not one story in the life of Abraham that Sarah was not somehow involved in, and influenced the outcome of, every one of the events in Abraham’s life. She was really the most liberated woman, who was as important to the life and narrative of her husband Abraham as much, or even more, than anyone else in his life.
When you read the book of Genesis, please notice how involved Sarah is in every episode of Abraham’s life. And then, we read of Avraham sending out his chief servant, Elizer (El Azar – the servant of God), to find a bride for the son of promise, Isaac.
There is a winning combination here between Divine Providence and human wisdom. I want to focus on this.
As an introduction to this teaching, I would like to emphasize that our world is very complicated, we are complicated people. God knows exactly what kind of world He has put us in, and so He created us with common sense and reason. God created us with a good and healthy mind, with the intent that we would use it! And the combination of good sense and Divine Providence brings success and blessing.
Sometimes we have no choice, and we are completely dependent on God, other times we can use the wisdom that God has given us.
Eliezer’s Impossible Test
In chapter 24, Abraham has Eliezer swear that he will find Isaac a good wife. On one hand, there is no problem to find a family willing to give away it’s daughter to a person of means such as Abraham’s successor. (Note that Eliezer takes ten camels loaded with all kinds of good things.)
But on the other hand, a family who cares for it’s daughter’s well-being would not be happy to send her off to a faraway place, since the family will not be able to stand by her side when necessary.
This testimony can be seen in Laban’s parting words to Jacob:
“If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.” – Genesis 31:50 [NIV]
Laban is concerned that when Jacob will be in a different country with his wives – Laban’s daughters – he will not care to treat them well.
We must understand that this is the concern of every family. It’s difficult to send your daughter off to a faraway country without the possibility of supporting her. This means that it will be difficult for Eliezer to find the right wife for Isaac, and persuade the family to send her far off.
Eliezer understood the weight of responsibility and the difficulty of his assignment, and he asks Abraham: The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?” – Genesis 24:5 [NIV]
Abraham is opposed to the possibility of Isaac’s “emigration”: “If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.” – Genesis 24:8 [NIV]
Abraham says that if the woman does not want to come to Canaan , then Eliezer is free from the oath, and he can find a local bride. The most important thing is that Isaac will not leave the Promised Land.
Eliezer understands that he has two jobs:
the first one is to find a suitable wife for Isaac, and
the second one is to convince her and her family to agree to marry a stranger who lives far away.
This story works on two planes – a spiritual one and an earthly one. Spiritual: to find a suitable wife. Earthly: to convince her family to send her, on her own, to a distant land to marry a stranger.
To ensure that God’s guidance is in play here, Eliezer comes up with an impossible test, with no real chance of working to find a suitable wife for Isaac:
“May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” – Genesis 24:14 [NIV]
Why would this be an impossible test?
First, she was a good girl from a good family. Good girls don’t go to draw water. There are slaves for this kind of thing, or they could use the barter system – they could trade a garment or a fabric in exchange for water. Pumping and hauling water is very hard work, and unsuitable for a girl. A clay jar full of water on a girl’s shoulder is perhaps a romantic painting, but in reality, it’s a hard job.
Second, the girl must approach a man. And before her there’s a strange man asking to drink water from her jar. A good girl would logically not talk with strangers, and she would not approach a man as to let him drink from her jar, as Eliezer spoke:
“Please give me a little water from your jar.” – Genesis 24:17b [NIV]
And the final demand of Eliezer’s test – that the girl willingly offered to water ten camels who had just finished a long journey, borders on absurdity. No girl from a good home would offer or initiate such hard labor. Perhaps a man of great strength would offer this option in return for decent wages, but not a girl.
How much water can a camel drink after a journey? The answer may surprise you – a camel can drink over 50 liters (13 gallons) in ten minutes. In other words, Eliezer is expecting this girl to volunteer to draw half a ton of water for his ten camels.
Even after this miracle occurs, it is written: Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful. – Genesis 24:21 [NIV]
Why does Eliezer watch her closely? This girl fulfilled every condition he set. Even after we receive a sign from God, it is necessary to make sure it is indeed from God. Eliezer still does not know if she is available for marriage, or if she’s engaged, or a slave girl, etc. Therefore he asks her who her father is and if her father has any place for lodging. The girl can answer this question if she indeed still lives in her father’s house and is a daughter and not a slave.
There are many who were tested in the Bible, such as Abraham, Job – even Yeshua. Even us!
1 Peter 4:12-15
Loved ones, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal taking place among you to test you — as though something strange were happening to you. Instead, rejoice insofar as you share in the sufferings of Messiah, so that at the revelation of His glory you may also rejoice and be glad. If you are insulted for the name of Messiah, you are fortunate, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Avraham faced ten trials of his faith in HaShem, but only after he about to sacrifice Isaac, did the angel of the Lord, stop him from plunging the knife into his son, and then HaShem said to Avraham , “now I know that you trust Me”.
Amid trials and uncertainties that are common in life, may God find us filled with the faith of Abraham, and may He say to us “Now I know that you trust Me”.