Difficult Family Dynamics, Reconciliation
Dvar, 6 November 2004
Adath Shalom by Danielle Dugas
Even though it is called Chaye Sarah, this week’s parsha is hardly about
Sarah. A great deal of the narrative
deals with Abraham, either in the lead role, or directing the movements of
others; and it concerns him, his relationship with his sons, or the
relationship between his sons. As is often the case in Torah, we are told
facts, and we are left to reconstruct feelings.
The one feeling which is explicitely accounted for is the love that
Isaac felt for Rebecca once they were married.
I would like to suggest that the underlying theme of the story is
separation, and that the tension arising within the silent players stems from a
deep yearning for reconciliation.
In Torah Sparks 2000, we find a useful summary. The parsha starts (Gen 23:1-20) when Sarah
dies at the age of 127. Abraham, after
bargaining with Ephron, acquires the Cave of Machpelah, in Hebron, as a family
burial plot. This is the first Jewish
acquisition of property in the Land of Israel.
(Gen 24:1-9) Abraham sends his servant back to Aram-Naharaim to find a
wife for Isaac. (Gen: 24:10-28) Eliezer,
Abraham’s servant, has been sent to Haran to find a wife for Isaac. He arrives in Haran, and finds Rebecca at the
well, where she passes his “test” of compassion and diligence. (Gen 24:29-49) Eliezer tells his journey’s purpose and
recounts his experiences to Laban, Rebecca’s brother, and how G-d led him to
find Rebecca for Isaac. (Gen25:50-52)
Laban and Bethuel agree to allow Rebecca to go with Eliezer. (Gen24:53-67) Rebecca consents to go with
Eliezer, and is given a farewell blessing by her family. Rebecca goes to Canaan and is wed to
Isaac. (Gen25:1-6) The genealogy of
Abrahamn’s descendants from his second marriage, to Keturah. Gen 25:7-11) Abraham dies and is buried next
to Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah. (Gen
25:12-18) A genealogy of Ishmael’s descendants.
The first subtle hint of tension
lies in the statement (Gen 23:2): “Sarah died in Kiriat-Arba”. At the end of Vayera, we read (Gen 22:19) : “and Abraham stayed in
Beersheba”. At the end of their lives,
Sarah and Abraham were not together.
After burying Sarah in due form, Abraham proceeds to organize further
the life of his son: he gives explicit
instructions to Eliezer to go find a wife for Isaac among his kin. Eliezer must travel away; under no condition
is Isaac to leave the land. Isaac’s job
is to stay at home and be the gracious recipient of Abraham’s wise ways. Indeed
it is said that it must be very difffcicult to live as a child in the shadow of
a very strong, famous, or very powerful
While Eliezer is away looking for the right wife, Isaac ponders life
(Gen 24:62-63): “Isaac had just come back from the vicinity of Beer-Lahai-Roi,
for he was settled in the region of the Negev.
And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide”. What was Isaac meditating about? What was on his mind? The obvious, in context, might be his wonder
or worry or speculation about how Eliezer would conclude his mission concerning
his future wife. But the Torah does not
always refer to the obvious. Rabbi
Konigsberg prepared notes for Torah Sparks for November 2000 where he says:
As a future bride, Rebecca, is approaching her new home, Isaac goes out
in the field to meditate. Nothing unusual about that. We would imagine Isaac to be a spiritually
sensitive young man; one who would meditate on the eve of his marriage. However, the Torah makes it a point of
telling us that Isaac had just come from a place called Beer-Lahai-Roi...
Beer-Lahai-Roi is the place where Hagar and Ishmael, Isaac’s half-brother,
found themselves hungry and thristy after being sent out by Sarah and Abraham...
Now what do you suppose Isaac was doing at this place; specially just before
his marriage?... All of this life, Isaac
has been haunted by the absence of this half-brother. Why should a brother be expelled? “Maybe it was my fault”the young Isaac agonized,
“how could my parents, the epitome of kindness and hospitality, put out a young
boy and his mother into the desert?” ... But now, with Sarah dead, Isaac could
finally explore his brother’s agony. And
so he goes to the place where his brother suffered so; suffered from not only
thirst and hunger, but form the terrible sense of rejection by his father...
(Ephraim Rubinger; Sermon Nov 1997
“Other or Brother”)
One day when he (Isaac) was four, Ishamel was teaching him to wrestle
... suddenly Isaac’s mother appeared.
“What are you doing?” she shouted at them... In the morning, he waited for Ishmael to come
to him... He went to Ishmael’tent. He wasn’t there... “Do you know where they are?” he asked his mother. “Yes, they left early this morning.”
“Left? Where did they go? Why didn’t Ishamel say anything to me? Why didn’t he take me with him?” Isaac cried.
“They had to leave”, his mother said stonily... Abraham put his arm around Isaac and
explained “Ishamel and Hagar did something bad and had to be punished. We couldn’t allow them to stay anymore. They had to leave.” “What did they do that was so bad?” “You will understand when you grow up”. “”Will you send me away if I also do
something bad?” “Of course not, you are
my son, my favorite son ...
(S/He Created them; Naomi Graetz; p38-44)
complex mixture of feelings must have stewed in Isaac’s mind.
extraordinary ability for acceptance of all these tensions.
ability to find the treasure which is in the here and now, as opposed to the
treasure that he might yearn for and never get.
cannot have his brother back. He can
only go where his brother was sent away, and make that place his.
And he can
learn to love Rebecca. (Gen 24:67): “Isaac brougth Rebecca into the tent of
this mother Sarah and he took Rebecca as his wife. Isaac loved her, (and thus found comfort
after his mother’s death”.
Finally we hear that Abraham marries again, Keturah, and with her has 6
sons. (Gen25:5-6) “Abraham willed all that he owed to Isaac; but to Abraham’s
sons by concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and he sent
them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the East.”
He sent away his first son Ishmael in anguish.
He raised his hand, prepared to slaughter his second son Isaac.
He had six more sons, and he sent them away.
story concludes with this comment about Abraham: (Gen 25:8) “And Abraham
breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was
gathered to his kin”.
The word contented in this sentence surprises and disturbs. I would like to offer another view of
Abraham’ s perception of his life. It is
presented in a poem titled “Abraham“ by Delmore Schwartz (Selected Poems,
Summer Knowledge, 1954).
I was a
mere boy in a stone-cutter's shop
early one evening, my raised hand
halted and the soundless voice said:
from your father and your country
things to which you are accustomed.
into a country unknown and strange
make of will haunt every generation of all the nations,
will be lik your children a great nation,
generations e the stars at midnight, like the sand of the sea."
looked up at the infinite sky,
and silent, and it was then, on that evening, that I
a man: that evening of my manhood's birthday.
then to Egypt, the greatest of nations.
encountered the Pharaoh who built the tombs,
public buildings, many theatres, and seashore villas:
wife's beauty was such that, fearing his power and lust,
called her my sister, a girl neither for him nor for me.
soon was fugitive, a nomad again.
alone with my sister, becoming very rich
but children, in herds, in possessions, the herds continually
my possessions through prodigies of progeny.
time to time, in the afternoon's revery
late sunlight or the cool of the evening
called to mind the protracted vanity of that promise
had called me forth from my father's house unwillingly
the last strangeness of Egypt and the childless desert.
Sarah gave me her handmaid, a young girl
might at least at last have children by another
later, when a great deal else had occurred,
away Hagar, with the utmost remorse
the child was the cause of so much rivalry and jealousy.
when all this had passed or when
promise seemed the parts of dream,
were worn out and patient in all things
stranger came, suave and elegant,
messenger who renewed the promise, making Sarah
out laughing hysterically!
boy was bom and grew and I saw
had known, I knew what I had seen, for he
his mother's beauty and his father's humility,
not marked and marred by her sour irony and my endless anxiety.
the angel returned, asking that I surrender
as a lamb to show that humility
lived in me, and was not altered by age and prosperity.
nothing, shocked and passive. Then I said but to myself alone:
was to be expected. These promises
never unequivocal or unambiguous, in this
all things which are desired the most:
had great riches and great beauty.
expect the perfection of every wish
I deny the command, who knows what will happen?"
life was forgiven and given back to me:
children and their children are an endless nation:
on every coast. And I am not gratified
astonished. It has never been otherwise:
wandering, dumbfounded by riches,
among strangers, dismayed by the infinite sky,
alien to myself until at last the caste of the last alienation
angel of death comes to make the alienated and indestructible one a part of his