I. Introduction (Sarah)
A. Read 23:1.
One of the nice features of having a title for the portion is the way it provokes questions. Here the portion is essentially "the life of Sarah," yet she dies at the beginning. Any thoughts of possible meaning in that? (Is this about the repair of the wounds and ongoing of life thereafter, after, for instance, after the episodes with Ishmael and Isaac? Or is this about the continuation of life and the covenant through Rebecca and Isaac? Or is it about life ongoing? Or more? See below.)
B. Read 23:2-9
As we discussed last week, Abraham and Sarah may (or may not) be living in different places.
Was there a breach over Ishmael? Or the near sacrifice of Isaac, or something else? (Nevertheless, there seems to be a restoration of sorts: Abraham mourns Sarah, seeks to find a burial place for her (and him), and value it by paying "full price" (actually, bloated price) for it.
A sense here, too, that Abraham is mindful here of the price he must pay for enduring in the land. God's promise does not absolve Abraham of duty to pay for this property. We'll not get into the ancient politics or property rights in the land, but we do take note of this important transaction.
Finally, the idea that honor is never yours or full, if not earned and paid for in some sense. We'll get to more about restoration in a moment, more about the "life of Sarah" in a moment. Yet, there seems at least to be the beginning of a "re-stitch in the rip in the fabric.)
II. A Wife for Isaac
A. Read 24:1
Abraham was old, advanced in years, and blessed by God in all things.
1) Why both old and advanced in years? Perhaps "old" now that Sarah has died. Perhaps zaken (old) also has a meaning of wise, too, in that Abraham has a sense of his own mortality and knows what we must soon do first in securing the land through first burying his kin and then in paving the way for the next generation ( as well as to repair with both Isaac and memory of Sarah, give meaning to life of Sarah, perpetuate God's destiny).
Recall we've noticed Abraham's age at each stage of his life. Now he's old, with declining vitality. Perhaps it's a self-awareness of this condition that leads him to call forth the servant to the crucial task at hand. Indeed Abraham is of such an advanced age he may not (and indeed is not) still be alive when the task is completed and the wife-to-be for Isaac comes back.
2) Blessed in all things? Wealth, etc.? Does this sense of blessing also (mainly) involve knowing the need and acting on this mission for and with Isaac at this stage of life and to do so with all his gifts and resources? And/or, more broadly, God's blessing (which is equivalent to "all").
B. Now we're going to go very carefully through this story of the meeting of Isaac and Rebecca. It's one of the longest chapters in the Bible and deserves and rewards a careful reading - full of symbol, meaning, great beauty, and destiny.
I think it's one of the best, if not actually the best, love story of all time. Let's relish it detail by detail. Bring your literary analysis caps along with the others for this journey!
And, oh, by the way, be thinking about why you think this story belongs in a portion entitled the life of Sarah.
1. So, Abraham asks his top assistant (purportedly Eliezer) to take on this task of finding a wife for Isaac. He prepares 10 camels with all kinds of gifts. Interestingly, he sends the servant to go back to Haran to find a wife among his family there. (That's interesting (?)) (better to find a wife among family and those who are "partly there" than among those who are not?).
Before we get into the reading, tell me your thoughts on why Abraham is doing this and why he would put his top assistant on it and apply such resources to it. (Add to the answers that will come, including fulfilling God's destiny through a grandchild (and the right one at that!), that Abraham wants to try to repair with Isaac and, even more, that all of the good might require the best sort of wife (which Rebecca turns out to be, in that, as we will see, here the matriarch ends up being as important, if not more so, than the patriarch, especially as the mother of Jacob (Israel)!). Abraham knows that he must act again, that he has the responsibility to God and destiny to act again.)
2. Read 24:10-20
a). What's the servant's prayer? Why was it a brilliant prayer for the job he was there to do? Or do you think, as a few commentators do, that, no, it was not suitable? And what particularly impresses you about what Rebecca does? And, did you notice it was at a well! And that means?? (It seeks God's help. It's about and after loving kindness, duty and service to others, including animals.
Now it doesn't hurt that Rebecca is beautiful. But, more, she fulfills the hope of the prayer, indeed beyond the terms of the prayer, actually to the full extent of need!! Btw, how much water do you think thirsty camels would drink after a long journey??
And, as we've discussed with water from a well, it's also about satisfying the physical and spiritual needs of those who come her way. Isn't that what we would want in our matriarch and what Abraham would want for Isaac and his descendants? Indeed since we don't know whether Isaac himself has all this, isn't it extra important that his wife does!?!)
b). Note the action. It's important. He "stations himself near the spring" "where the women come to draw water." Rebecca "goes down to the spring," fills the pitcher, and "comes up." The servant "runs to meet her." After providing water, "she runs to the well" to draw again. Significance?
(He runs to her...to fulfill God's wishes. She "goes down" to the water, spiritual motion to water and, later as she "goes down to Isaac, to destiny. She runs back to the well to hasten showing kindness.)
3. The servant and Rebecca have a further exchange involving a gift, a question about her family, and an offer to give him a place of rest. Further, the servant praises God for guiding him here. Rebecca runs to tell her family, and her brother, Laban, encounters the servant. Now the challenging part of the story related to the betrothal begins.
But before we get there, let's read 24:27.
Any other translations?
This is part of the servant's praise of God, and this line is important. It is to God a) Who has never withheld his steadfast kindness, or b) Who has not left destitute his covenant loyalty and his truth, or c) Who has not relinquished his faithfulness and trustworthiness from Abraham. The Hebrew words are chasdo v'amito. It could be any of these translations. But questions arise. Why this prayer? Why this emphasis on God? What does it reflect in God and what has happened? (God keeps faith. God honors the covenant. God shows kindness and is true.)
One of you asked me last week to put more emphasis on how we are created in God's image. How could one say this verse responds to that interest? The servant blesses God for a trait he has now seen lived out by Rebecca!
So, look at the cycle, and one that goes forward from generation to another: God shows Abraham steadfast kindness; Abraham seeks this trait of God in a marriage partner for his son and thus a reflection of God's image to be shown in the next generation; the servant shows duty to Abraham in seeking it in a wife for Isaac; and the servant praises God for showing it to Abraham. Ah, the core of a love story for people of faith!!)
4. After Rebecca's family led by her brother Laban show the servant further hospitality, the servant tells his story.
In it, we learn all the details that will come with the betrothal, including gifts for all! But we also read the words attributed to Abraham in verse 40 that show his confidence in the success of the mission, "The Lord, whose ways I have followed, will send his angel with you and make your errand successful." What do you make of this insertion and assertion? (Ah, faith in God's being true to the covenant was either a part of Abraham's instruction to the servant and/or it's shown to the family as central to this mission and an assurance of its success.)
Indeed after the family appears to go back on the arrangement, the servant protests, "Do not delay me, now that the Lord has made my errand successful." They then straighten up and decide to call Rebecca and ask her if she chooses to go. She says yes, and they bless her.
Read 24:60. What does her decision and this blessing remind you of? (Abraham! She's called; she chooses to "go forth," and she's blessed. In ways that we'll discuss next week, it is this matriarch who "carries the torch," and this narrative is essential to understanding how this developed and why.)
5. Read 24:62-67.
Where was Isaac? What does that mean? Who else had gone there? Interesting.
He was walking in the field. (The Talmud believes he is praying, perhaps in contemplation of meeting the woman who will be his wife, the right way to conduct himself in transition, and how he should be with her.) He looked up and saw. (Recall Abraham looked up and saw the visitors.) Rebecca sees him, as if at the same time, and perhaps in prayer. (Isn't that the recognition that happens (at least often) when people truly "fall in love"?!)
She took her veil and covered herself. Lovely! He takes her to the tent of her mother. Meaning?
(She follows Sarah as the matriarch. Sarah lives on in an ongoing way, giving a sort of an enduring meaning to the name of this portion, the Lifetime of Sarah. It may be that Rebecca was like Sarah.
Also, this is what the wife does for a husband, and the son finds "comfort after his mother's death." And life goes on. This family goes on. The journey goes on. The path to destiny goes on.)
III. Abraham at the End.
A. I'll leave for another turn the matter of Abraham's marriage to Keturah. But I must digress for a moment to ask you: who do some of the sages suggest this might be? (Hagar!)
B. Abraham dies (25:7-8), "old and contented," as he should be (his missions accomplished), perhaps with, according to the sages, a sense from God of the reward for the righteous in the Coming World.
When he died, he "was gathered to his kin." What does that mean? What kin? And he wasn't buried yet. Some think this suggests movement to the Coming World.
He was buried by both sons (perhaps reconciled, at least for the moment), next to Sarah, and to show care in continuing the promise of the covenant, God blessing his son, Isaac, who settles near Beer-lahai-roi.
IV. Looking Forward. Lest you think the narrator is about to let up in the drama of the narrative, come back next week! It's Tol'dot, the story...of Isaac, and, in my mind, even more of Rebecca, as we move on to Jacob, and, of course, Israel. It's Genesis 25:19- 28:6.