Parashat Hayyei Sarah
November 25-26, 2016 – 26 Heshvan 5777
Annual (Genesis 23:1-25:18): Etz Hayim p. 127-141; Hertz p. 80-89
Triennial (Genesis 23:1-24:9): Etz Hayim p. 127-132; Hertz p. 80-83
Haftarah (1 Kings 1:1-31): Etz Hayim p. 142-145; Hertz p. 90-92
Kissin’ Cousins – and more
Esther Israel, CY Talmud and Bible Faculty
Marrying within the family can be logical – assuming you like the family. You know what you’re getting, both genetically and value-wise, and you’re not adding many new relatives (in whom you may not be interested).
This week’s parashah, Hayyei Sarah, is named after the “recently” deceased Matriarch Sarah. You may have missed the announcement of her marriage to Avram three weeks ago, at the end of Parshat Noah. Gen. 11:29 reports the marriages of the brothers, Avram and Nahor, sons of Terah: the first to Sarai, and the latter to Milka. Milka, incidentally, is the daughter of their deceased brother, Haran. In other words, Nahor marries his niece. Funny thing, the Torah calls her “Milka, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milka and Yiscah”. The Midrash equates Yiscah with Sarai, thereby having the brothers marry their two nieces, sisters. That would explain the funny repetition above – it’s coming to point out something about Yiscah.
Further on, in Gen. 20:12 (Parashat Vayera), Avraham tells the Philistine king, Avimelekh, that his wife Sarah is actually his sister – by father, but not by mother. If she were indeed his brother’s daughter, that might be what Avraham meant by referring to her, albeit very loosely, as his paternal sister!
In our parashah Avraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son, Yitzhak. The right wife, according to Avraham, must be from his family in the “old country,” even if one has to travel weeks to find her. Indeed, the bride found is Rivka, the granddaughter of Avraham’s brother, Nahor. Therefore, she is Yitzhak’s first cousin once-removed.
A generation later Yitzhak sends his son, Ya’akov, to Lavan, the brother of his wife Rivka. Why? To find a wife, of course! And, outdoing the others, Ya’akov marries not one relative, but two – the two sisters, his first cousins Rachel and Leah.
When Ya’akov is sent to Haran to find a wife, Esau realizes he erred by marrying “foreign” Canaanite women. He tries to make amends by taking another wife, from the family this time: he marries his paternal Uncle Yishma’el’s daughter Mahalat. However, he misunderstood: in this story, the boys from Avraham’s line must be matched with girls from Nahor’s line.
Avraham and the carriers of “Avraham’s blessing” – granting the right to the eventual inheritance of the land and the blessing of offspring – are those who need to continue the family by “innermarrying”. By that point in the story it is already clear that it is Ya’akov who bears “Avraham’s blessing”, and Esau probably need not “innermarry”. Similar analysis tells us that marrying into Yishma’el’s line will not advance the plot. The Children of Israel are the blend of Avraham and Nahor: we are full B’nei Terah.
Rashi quotes Midrash to explain Leah’s “soft”/weak eyes: they were damaged by her crying over what she understood to be her fated marriage, to her elder cousin Esau (whereas younger Rachel would marry the younger Ya’akov). This Midrash considers the possibility that Esau, too, might have married into Nahor’s line.
The Torah does not express concern with possible genetic complications (of which information was lacking) of repeated marriages within one extended family. Strangely, there is not even concern for those relations that will later in the Torah, not yet given, be defined as incest. It is not within the scope of this blurb to try and work that out. However, points to ponder…
A Vort for Parashat Hayyei Sarah
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
On “Abraham was old, a veteran of many days [ba b’yamim]” (Gen 24:1), R’ Mordechai HaKohen (Israel, 20th) tells of R’ Yakov )Lorberbaum) from Lisa (1770 – 1832, Poland) who heard that there were residents in town who were unhappy with him. He invited them in and asked them to detail his deficiencies or misdeeds. God forbid, Rabbi, they said, you are a Talmid chacham and a true believer. It’s just that you are young, and our city deserves a more mature rabbi. “Don’t worry,” R’ Yakov assured them. “I understand the problem and I promise I’ll work to correct it m’yom l’yom, every day.”
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
In this Parasha we have 2 main stories: The death of Sarah that leads to Avraham purchasing land in Canaan, and finding a wife (Rivka –Rebecca) for Isaac (Yitzhak).
1) After Sarah dies Avraham insists on buying land, not accepting it as a gift. He even has a specific plot in mind: The cave at the edge of the field of Efron the Hittite. How does Efron respond? Read carefully: In vv. 10-11 he says one thing, and in v. 14 he seems to say something else. How do you explain this change?
2) After buying the land and burying Sarah we are told that Avraham is old and/ (but?) God had blessed Avraham with everything (24:1). What kind of things do you think that God gave Avraham that he would consider a blessing?
3) Avraham sends his senior servant to find a wife for Yitzhak. The servant takes 10 of his master’s camels and “all his master’s goods” with him (24:10). What do you think is the purpose of this part of the caravan? For whom might this part of the caravan be significant?
4) As a sign of “the appropriate wife for Yitzhak” the servant chooses ‘she who, when asked to give water, will give me and offer to water the camels as well’ (24:13-14). What will such behavior tell about the woman? Why is such an offer on her part extraordinarily generous? (Think about the physical work involved in this offer.) Does this behavior resemble anything that we have seen in Abraham?
5) Rivka (Rebecca) agreed to travel back with the servant to marry Yitzhak. As they approach and she sees Isaac for the first time, she descends from the camel (24:63-66). What does she ask the servant? What does he answer and how accurate is his answer? Why do you think he answered as he did?