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Parshat Chayei Sarah: The Weekly Torah Portion Explained

11/18/2011 03:19 am ET | Updated Nov 09, 2012

Editor's note: The weekly HuffTorah portion is an overview of the Torah reading of the week and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. This week's portion comes from Genesis 23:1-25:18. Read the full text of Parshat Chayei Sarah with interlinear Hebrew/English.

Sarah lives 100 years, 20 years and seven years. One hundred and 27 are the years of Sarah's life. She dies in Hebron in Canaan, where Abraham goes to eulogize and to bewail her.

Rising from his wife, Abraham speaks to the surrounding people: "I am an alien and a resident among you. Please," he asks, "grant me a piece of land to bury my dead."

The children of Chet, the council Abraham is addressing, responds: "You are a prince of God, Abraham! Pick the choicest field, the most premiere patch. We will not withhold. It is yours. Bury your dead."

Abraham, always rising and bowing and rising and bowing, rises and bows to the people and says: "If you're being real, talk to Ephron of Zohar that he should grant me the Cave of Machpela at the edge of his field. I will pay the fullest price to bury my people -- my family -- there."

Ephron, of course, sits among the children of Chet and hears Abraham's request. Cutting out the middlemen, he replies right then and there: "No! Listen! The field -- it is yours. The cave within the field -- take it. Gifts for you. Bury your dead."

The ever-humble servant bows before Ephron and the esteemed council and says: "No! Listen here! I'll pay you the full price of the field and the cave. Take it. Then, I will bury my dead."

And Ephron: "Good Lord, my lord, listen! This land -- it's nothing. Worth 400 shekels. Tops. Between two good friends such as us, what is 400 shekels? Take it. Bury your dead."

Abraham stops listening at first mention of a price and begins weighing out the shekels. Among his people, Ephron accepts the offer, and thus the field and the cave become Abraham's property. And it is confirmed by the council's witness. And Abraham buries Sarah in the Cave of Machpela in Hebron in the land of Canaan.

On A Mission From Abraham For Isaac

Abraham's getting up there in years, and God has already blessed him with so much. With everything, in fact. So Abraham says to his right-hand servant, Eliezer: "Swear to me by the God of heaven and earth that you will take a wife for my son from my land, from among my kindred. No Canaanite meets Isaac's caliber."

Eliezer has doubts: "What if this hypothetical wife doesn't want to follow me back here. Should I take Isaac to your old hometown?"

Says Abraham: "No! Don't take him there. God -- the one who promised me all that great stuff, remember? -- will send an angel before you. A 'guardian angel,' as they say. You'll be fine. You'll find a wife for my son. But! If she doesn't want to follow, so be it. In that case, you're absolved of this oath. Just don't take Isaac there. Seriously. Don't."

So Eliezer swears an oath, takes 10 camels and Abraham's bounty, and sets out for Nachor, the land of his master's kin. In one verse's time, Eliezer reaches a well outside of the city. While the camels rest, Eliezer talks to God, asking that the Master of his master to arrange things that Abraham should be pleased. "I'm standing here by a well, God. Maybe you can make a the women of the town come here to draw water. And maybe I'll ask for water from them. And maybe the one who gives me water will even offer to give water to the camels. And maybe she'll be Isaac's bride. And this way I'll know that Abraham will be pleased because she will have been sent by you. What do you think? Maybe? God? Are you--"

And suddenly, God's reply comes in the form of Rebecca, the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, who was the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother. Rebecca approaches the well with a jug, and Eliezer sees that she is beautiful and that she is a virgin. Rebecca fills her jug and is leaving when, remembering his charge, Eliezer runs toward her and says: "Please! Fair lady! Can I have a sip of your water?" And Rebecca replies, "Drink!" and waits for Eliezer to finish before saying, "The camels! They must be thirsty. Let me water them, too." While she does this, filling the jug many times, Eliezer reflects on the so-far success of his journey. In fact, he's astonished. He puts a golden ring in her nose and two bracelets on her arms and asks, "Whose daughter are you? Is there room at your house for me to sleep the night?"

"I'm Rebecca. Bethuel is my father. He's the son of Milcah. She's the wife of Nahor. We've got space and straw and food. Come with me."

Eliezer bows low. To the ground even. He prostrates himself and thanks God for showing kindness to Abraham and bringing him to this well and this woman.

Don't Let That Deal Go Down

Rebecca runs home and tells her family what's occurred. Laban, her brother, sees the ring and the bracelet, hears the tale and runs to Eliezer: "Come inside, blessed brother! There's room in the house! Come!"

Eliezer enters the house and refuses to eat the food placed before him until he's given his shpiel. He tells of Abraham and Sarah and the blessings from God. He speaks of the oath he took to bring Isaac a wife and of his doubts. He explains that God sent an angel before him. He recounts coming to the well and speaking to God. He goes over all that happened with Rebecca and how he praised God.

"So what'll it be?" he asks. "Will you be kind and true to Abraham? If not, tell me, and I'll leave."

Laban and Bethuel answer: "This is from God! Who are we to judge? Here's Rebecca. Take her. Go. Let her be a wife, as God has said."

Eliezer prostrates himself, and then bring gifts to Rebecca -- silver, gold, clothes. And he gives the most delectable fruit to Rebecca's mother and brother.

Everyone eats and drinks. Eliezer sleeps. And awoken in the morning, he says, "Take me to my master."

But brother and mother say, "Let Rebecca remain with us for one year ... and 10 months. Then she will go."

But Eliezer will have nothing of the sort. "Do not delay me," he says, " My journey's been flawless, Thank God. Send me to my master."

"Fine," mother and brother say, "let's ask Rebecca her decision."

Rebecca approaches, and they ask, "Will you go with this man?" And Rebecca says, "I will go."

So mother and brother escort Rebecca and her nurse and Eliezer and his men, and they bless Rebecca: "May you be like the stars, and inherit the very best of your enemies."

Rebecca rises, alights on a camel and the whole caravan departs.

May We Meet In A Field

Now, Isaac goes to the field to pray to God before the evening, and he lifts his eyes, horizon of horizons, wonder of wonders, camels are approaching. At the moment, Rebecca lifts her eyes and sees Isaac, and she asks Eliezer, "Who is that? Who is walking toward us?"

And Eliezer: "He is my master, Isaac."

Rebecca covers herself with a veil.

Eliezer tells Isaac all that has occurred.

Isaac brings Rebecca to his mother's tent. He marries her. She becomes his wife. He loves her. He is consoled by her.

Finely Aged Abraham

So Abraham goes on with his life. Takes another wife for himself -- Keturah -- and has a slew of new children with her. Among them: Jokshan, Ishbak and Shuah. And among the grandkids: Asshurim, Ephah and Epher, and Hanoch.

Abraham gives all of his everything to Isaac. To his children by Keturah, he gives gifts but them east, sends them away from Isaac, his one true heir.

Abraham lives 100 years, 70 years, five years. And he dies at the "good, old age" of 175. He dies mature. He dies content. He dies among his people.

Isaac and Ishmael bury their father in the Cave of Machpela in the field he bought from Ephron in Hebron in Canaan. He is buried next to his wife, Sarah.

After Avraham, God blesses Isaac and Isaac settles down.

And Ishmael. Among his descendants: Adbeel, Mibsam, Dumah, Naphish and Kedem. Twelve nations in all.

Ishmael lives 137 years. He was gathered then to his people. They lived far and wide, near and far.

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection: