11/09/2017

Shabbat Hayei Sarah

Candles - Friday 10th November @ 4:22pm
Havdalah - November 11th @ 5:16pm

After the death of Abraham’s wife Sarah and his negotiation for the Cave of Mahpela as a family burial site, most of the Torah reading this week is devoted the journey of Abraham’s servant and manager, Eliezer of Damascus, to find a wife for Isaac. The journey takes him to Haran where he finds Rebecca. He negotiates with her family and brings her back to Canaan to marry Isaac.

She arrives towards evening and sees Isaac coming towards her from Be’er LeChai Roi, the name of the well where Hagar and Ishmael were living. It seems that after Sarah’s death the brothers were reconciled and lived next to each other. Isaac meets her, takes her home to replace his mother, marries her and then, notice the sequence, falls in love with her. Falling in love is an important sub plot of this week’s reading, directly and indirectly.

Abraham then marries again. Her name is Keturah and she gives birth to six other sons. All of whom establish important dynasties. But then we are told that Abraham had others sons by his concubines. Who are they? Did the Torah mean that they were Keturah’s children and Keturah was not a wife but a concubine? Silence. Either way the Torah tells us that Abraham settled his affairs by leaving his empire to Isaac. As for the rest of his children he gave them presents and he sent them east so that they would not compete or threaten Isaac and one assumes Ishmael.

The Midrash makes an amazing assumption. That Keturah is really Hagar. For as long as Sarah was alive she kept her distance out of respect. But because she loved Abraham she did not remarry and waited until the moment she could be reconciled. It is a highly romantic idea linked to a meaning of the name Keturah, which could mean sweet-smelling, like incense, but could also come from the word for what we call a chastity belt. She kept herself under lock and key, so to speak, until Abraham, her one true love was free to marry her. It is a testament to true love that can overcome all difficulties and obstacles.

Abraham was a romantic. But he was also a practical man. He knew he had to make suitable arrangements in order to avoid conflict. He had already taken care of Ishmael. Now of Isaac. But he also made sure all his other sons were provided for (we don’t know if he had any daughters). His was the ideal combination of cold wisdom and romantic passion.