B’REISHIT – GENESIS
Chayei Sarah – Sarah’s Life
Sarah’s life, chayei Sarah, is mentioned twice in the first verse but the parasha actually speaks of Sarah’s death and burial in Hebron. When the death of Abraham also is mentioned later in the text (25:7), we read:
“And these are the days of Abraham’s life, chayei Avraham, which he lived.”
The double emphasis seems to highlight the fact that the couple truly lived their lives fully – both physically and spiritually. Their lives were filled with the highest purpose and most noble of goals: to share their knowledge of God and His ways with others and to practice chessed, deeds of loving-kindness, at every opportunity. Each of their days was devoted to serving God in righteousness. As a result, their days counted for eternity. They truly ‘lived’ and their deeds left an imprint on generations to come.
After Sarah dies, Avraham sends his servant back to his family in Haran to find a wife for their son Yitzchak. He arrives there and while he is praying near a well for God to help him, Rivka (Rebecca) comes to fetch water. When he asks her for a drink, she says “Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.” Her kindness and generous offer of hospitality, including feed for the camels, which reflect the characters of Abraham and Sarah, cause him to “bow down and worship the LORD” (24:26). He gives praise to the One who has faithfully directed him to the home of Abraham’s family and, it appears, to God’s choice of a wife for Isaac.
The story ends happily with a marriage between Yitzchak and Rivkah, which, as with every brit – godly covenant, is intended for life and blessing.
Toldot – Generations
The core of biblical narrative describes a prolific ebb and flow of life – a stream of ‘begettings.’ However, all the beloved wives of the patriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel, initially were unable to bear children. Our attention is drawn to the fact that these were not regular, ordinary births but were God’s ordination for His divine purposes.
Toldot is the only portion in which all three forefathers are alive simultaneously. Relatively little is written about Isaac, yet he provides the balance between the strong personalities of his father, Abraham, and his own son Jacob. Abraham is noted for his chesed (lovingkindness) and values of generosity and hospitality. To Jacob is attributed the characteristic of emet (truth). He constantly wrestled to discover the truth and he overcame and became Israel.
Isaac personifies yirat HaShem (fear/reverence of God) – the vital balance between love and truth. Love must be restrained by the reverent awe of God in order to produce self-control and the fruit of the Spirit. If not, it can lead to self-indulgence and Lawlessness (Torah-lessness). Over-emphasis on plain truth, however, can lead to self-righteousness and legalism, which in the extreme leads to undue selfishness and hardness of heart.
Va’Yetze – And He Went Out
The first verse of Va’Yetze describes Jacob’s setting out from Beersheva to Haran with the dual purpose of escaping his brother Esau’s wrath and of seeking a wife for himself from his grandfather Abraham’s family. As he journeys, in a startling and unexpected encounter, he “collides” with a place. He can go no further. The sun has set and he decides to sleep.
In this place, believed to be Mount Moriah where Abraham offered Jacob’s father as a sacrifice, Jacob dreams. He sees a ladder connecting heaven and earth upon which the angels of God are ascending and descending. And,
“Hinei, behold! the Lord stood above it.”
On awakening he realizes this is the Place of God, the future Jerusalem, and he names it Beit-El, House of God.
Va’Yishlach – And He Sent
Va’Yislach describes the dramatic event of Jacob’s return to his homeland, including his encounter with the mysterious angel. In Midrashic commentary, the angel has come not for a hostile purpose but to “save and rescue him”; to show Jacob how to become Israel – how to confront honestly and with authority; to passionately wrestle and to overcome.
This concept can be applied on an historical level to the nation of Israel that emerges from Jacob’s descendants.