Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #5 Chai Sarah (Sarah’s life) B’resheit (Genesis 23:1-25:18
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 1:1-31
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 8:19-22; 27:3-10
This week’s parashah narrative describes another dimension of Abraham’s hospitality on a very personal note. Many of you know that the Rosh Rebbe of Beth Elohim passed from this world 4 years ago, leaving me to teach G-d’s Torah and lead the flock. He prepared me well, training me for 13 years and sending me to Yeshiva and to a Christian seminary to become well-versed in what Christianity teaches compared to the faith of our Messiah, Messianic Judaism. At yeshiva, I learned what the Orthodox brethren teach, also a variance from G-d’s Torah. Nevertheless, it was very difficult for me to conduct the memorial service as a rabbi for my beloved husband and mentor. On a grander scale but no more sorrowful, Abraham’s beloved wife Sarah just died at 127 years of age. One hundred-twenty-seven reflects the ideal lifespan of 120 years plus 7, the number of spiritual perfection. Perhaps the seven years alludes to a Sabbatical year; final rest and freedom for G-d’s people and the land at the end of the age. Abraham finished mourning for Sarah and then got up and got on with the business of burying her and moving on with his life. How long was this mourning process? The Talmud tells us that one weeps for three days, mourns for seven, and, in some ways, for thirty. Notice he did not commit suicide, he did not solicit secondary gain by openly feeling sorry for himself, and he did not get angry at G-d. He grieved and moved on to the business of continuing to serve G-d demonstrated in the way he conducted business with the sons of Het and Efron specifically. More on this in a moment.
How unusual it seems to have a parashah named after a wife. G-d’s Torah gives no other woman’s age, yet Sarah’s age is spelled out. The Midrash says that from here we learn that Sarah was as pure from sin at 100 as she had been at 20; and she was as beautiful at 20 as she had been at 7.Both old age and youth have advantages. Knowledge and experience come with age, while enthusiasm and energy are the signs of youth. The Torah tells us that Sarah had all the attributes of both age and youth throughout her entire life.
Some will be quick to condemn Sarah for her silent laughter when Adonai appearing as a theophany as three men informed Avraham for a second time that Sarah would bear children. But if we examine the circumstances, we realize we would probably have laughed too! First, Adonai tells Avraham in Gen. 15:4 that he will be given a son from his own body. Did Avraham tell Sarah this news at this time or was she eager to provide Avraham a son as did all wives of the time? Even if Avraham told her at that time, she still had not borne children many years past the normal period of female fertility. Avraham was at least 99 (Gen. 17:1) so we know Sarah was far and away past her prime. Growing in faith and trust in YHVH/Yahshua takes time. This was a sharp learning curve for Avraham and Sarah. This provides a lesson for us; trust in the faithfulness of Yahshua to do as He promises. He is faithful and trustworthy. Revelation 19:11 reads “Next I saw heaven opened, and there before me was a white horse. Sitting on it was the one called Faithful and True, and it is in righteousness that he passes judgment and goes to battle.”
Another important aspect of Sarah’s life is that she was the wife of a pioneer. We read in awe about pioneers such as the Donner Party and others who left eh relative comfort of life in the East to travel across a country full of unknowns. Sarah was the first wife to encounter such trials. She left her family to become a stranger in a strange land with her husband. She did not even have the “luxury” of knowing where she was headed, unlike the American pioneers who had a destination in mind. She was beautiful, jealous for her husband’s affection, zealous for her own position, and a mother who, in striving to obtain the best for her child, demonstrated cruel behavior. Despite her shortcomings, later generations considered her a paragon of piety and beauty as described in (Gen. 12:10-20).We must not ignore her obedience when Avraham told her what to say to the Egyptians and submit herself to whatever would follow. Her name was changed from Sarai (mockery) (Gen. 17:15) to Sarah (princess). We read that G-d also sees Sarah as righteous. Twice He promises Avraham that He will bless her; that she will bear a son to Avraham, establish His covenant with this son, and that Sarah will be a mother of nations; that kings of peoples will come from her (Gen. 15:16). This narrative illustrates a consistent theme found in the entire Torah; that G-d uses all sorts of people with all sorts of character flaws to his ultimate glory.
It is important to note that Abraham could have reacted in a very different way when his beloved Sarah died. He could have looked back like the Israelites would in the future, lamenting the past and wanting to settle for less than what G-d had planned for them. He could have looked back as did Lot’s wife and perhaps G-d would not have bestowed the blessings that awaited him and the nations that would be blessed. But he did not look back. He wept and mourned Sarah’s departure, but he got up and moved toward the next destination in his journey. He did not cry out, in anger or anguish, to G-d. Instead, he heard the still, small voice saying: The next step depends on you. You must create a future that I will fill with My spirit. That is how Abraham survived the shock and grief. We can count on experiencing sad times in our lives as G-d weaves our lives into His perfect tapestry. Providing the example of Abraham and his reaction to the loss of his dear Sarah, we can draw on this response when it is our turn to experience such sadness.
G-d enters our lives as a call from the future. It is as if we hear him beckoning to us from the far horizon of time, urging us to take a journey and undertake a task that, in ways we cannot fully understand, we were created for. That is the meaning of the word vocation, literally “a calling,” a mission, a task to which we are summoned.
We are not here by accident. We are here because G-d wanted us to be, and because there is a task we were meant to fulfill. Discovering what that is, is not easy, and often takes many years and false starts. But for each of us there is something G-d is calling on us to do, a future not yet made that awaits our making. It is future-orientation that defines our faith. So much of the anger, hatred and resentments of this world are brought about by people obsessed by the past and who, like Lot’s wife, are unable to move on. There is no happy ending to this life-attitude. Those who choose to remain in the past are soon absorbed and consumed by it to the point where lives can be of no use to themselves or G-d until they look up from grief, self-pity, or fear of the future and trust G-d to lead them through the “desert” towards a final destination to the Land.
Abraham hastens to bury Sarah as a mitzvah of love and respect. However, he may not have known the ramifications of this humble action. He strives to purchase a suitable gravesite for his beloved Sarah. But there is one problem. Abraham understood as a foreigner in the land, he did not have the right to own land without purchasing it and obtaining the permission of the community. Strangers are not permitted burial rights. He makes a point to negotiate a possible site in front of the Hittites to prevent any later argument that the cave was not purchased legitimately (Gen. 10:15).
In Gen. 23:10-17 we learn about Efron and his hidden agenda. At face value Efron offers to give Abraham the cave and the field. He makes a point to say he is giving it to Abraham twice in front of the people. Abraham sees through the façade, bows toward the people and beseeches Efron to sell the land to him. Efron’s true colors begin to show through as he makes a backhanded comment about the worth of the land at 400 shekels (Gen. 23:15). An essential part of our spiritual growth is to develop greater awareness of our soul and its needs and we can gain a deeper understanding of the body-soul relationship by making a further observation using the Jewish number system of Gematria. We can only discern insight into Efron’s true character through the Hebrew. Throughout the chapter, Ephron’s name is spelled with a vav. However, in Chapter 16 where the money changed hands and the sale was consummated, the vav is omitted. The vav is the letter of connection; it means ‘and’- it joins concepts and nouns together. Its shape also signifies its connecting ability; it is shaped like a hook with which we can hook to things together. Thereby the Torah implies that his status was diminished in the incongruity of his words with his thoughts and character When Efron received the money he surely felt that he had increased his importance in the world – now he was a wealthy man. However, as he actually lost a letter to his name, his ‘real value’ as a person went down. When Efron gained in physicality he went down in spirituality and lost an element of connection with God. When a person gives more importance to his body, then, necessarily his soul will suffer. Furthermore, we need to understand the real worth of land at that time to understand how Abraham was able to discern Efron’s agenda.
Abraham did not want a gift lest the people hold it over his head at a later time. This is a valuable lesson for today. If we want something, buy it outright, get and keep the receipt, and that will usually suffice as proof of purchase. I say “usually” because one never knows how courts will rule in disputes over possessions today. Abraham wanted to own the land free and clear. Efron attempts to take advantage of the situation by exacting an unrealistically high price. The steep price of 400 shekels was far beyond what King David paid for the Temple site (2 Sam.24:24). A small plot like Machpelah could be purchased for 17 shekels at around 600 B.C.E (Jer. 32:9). The Talmud (Bava mettzia 87a) explains, each shekel that Abraham used to pay for the plot was worth 2,500 ordinary shekels (Rashi) (Abraham used silver shekels).If this were the case, Abraham paid a total of one million ordinary shekels for the cave.
Verse 16 reveals Abraham’s insight into Efron’s agenda and without hesitation weighs out the stated value in silver in front of the sons of Het to make it very clear the field and cave would belong to him according to the terms of Efron and the Hittites. Finally, the hospitable and humble Abraham buries Sarah in the land of Canaan; a piece of land that he can call his own. This illustrates Abraham’s love for Sarah. He did not haggle over the price. As the midrash states, this is one of three places where Scripture attests to the Jews’ uncontestable possession of the Holy Land. For the Cave of Mechpelah, the temple site, and the Tomb of Joseph were all purchased without bargaining and paid for with unquestionably legal tender.
This burial site is a token. G-d promised Abraham and his descendants the land; Machpelah, then, is a visible sign of the future (Gen. 17:8). A burial place for the dead is the only piece of land that Abraham, a non-resident, can hope to acquire. It represents a token title to the Promised Land and a symbol of possession when the people are far from the land- whether in Egyptian slavery or European exile. We may ask ourselves why Abraham needed such a token of G-d’s future fulfillment of His promise. We can answer this question by remembering that Abraham was human. He represented the potential and the limits of faith. People will live and die for ideals that they know will not be realized in their lifetime, yet we strive to see at least a small portion accomplished. G-d understands this desire and fleshly limitation of His creation and often provides us a glimpse of the olam haba (world to come) in a tangible form that we can comprehend. Such is the case with manifestation of G-d as Yahshua. The Untouchable became touchable; the Word became flesh; the written Torah of G-d came to life. Yet, we are told in Isaiah 64:4 and 1 Cor. 2:9 that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no one’s heart has imagined all the things that G-d has prepared for those who love him.”
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 1:1-31
This week’s haftarah describes an aging King David, echoing this week’s Torah reading, which mentions that “Abraham was old, advanced in days.”
King David was aging, and he was perpetually cold. A young maiden, Abishag of Shunam, was recruited to serve and provide warmth for the elderly monarch.
Seeing his father advancing in age, Adoniahu, one of King David’s sons, seized the opportunity to prepare the ground for his ascension to his father’s throne upon the latter’s passing — despite King David’s express wishes that his son Solomon succeed him. Adoniahu recruited two influential individuals — the High Priest and the commander of David’s armies — both of whom had fallen out of David’s good graces, to champion his cause. He arranged to be transported in a chariot with fifty people running before him, and invited a number of his sympathizers to a festive party where he publicizing his royal ambitions.
The prophet Nathan encouraged Bat Sheva, mother of Solomon, to approach King David and plead with him to reaffirm his choice of Solomon as his successor. This she did, mentioning Adoniahu’s recent actions of which the king had been unaware. Nathan later joined the Bat Sheva and the king to express support for Bat Sheva’s request. King David acceded to their request: “Indeed,” he told Bat Sheva, “as I swore to you by the Lord God of Israel saying, ‘Surely Solomon, your son, shall reign after me and he shall sit on my throne in my stead,’ surely, so will I swear this day.”
B’rit Chadashah: Focus on Mattityahu (Matthew) 8:19-22
“A Torah-teacher approached and said to him (Yahshua), ‘Rabbi, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Yahshua said to him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds flying about have nests, but the Son of Man has no home of his own.’ Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Sir, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Yahshua replied,’ Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Son of Man: One of the titles of the Messiah based on Daniel 7:13-14, where the text has “bar-enosh” (Aramaic). “Bar-enosh,” like Hebrew ben adam, can also mean “son of man,” “typical man,” “one schooled to be a man,” or simply “man.” both heaven and on earth to be a man. Yahshua refers to himself by this title frequently, stressing his full identification with the human condition (Rom.5:12-21, 8:3-39; 1 Cor.15:21-49; Phil. 2:5-11.
In verses 21-22 we learn that IF we consider ourselves true followers, talmidim, disciples of Yahshua and lovers of G-d, we must rearrange our priorities. This disciple’s father is not physically dead. This son wants to return to the comfort of his current existence and remain home until his father dies. It is only after he gains his inheritance that he might consider following Yahshua. On this and other excuses read Luke 9:57-62. Yahshua explicitly refers to those who choose the existence in this world over serving G-d/Yahshua as “the dead.” Let the spiritually dead, those concerned with the benefits of this world, including inheritances, remain with each other in life and eventually bury their own physically dead. The true disciple must get his/her priorities straight. Yahshua did not wait around a week, month or year for people to choose whether or not to follow Him. Decisions to follow Yahshua must be made while it is “still day” (John 9:4-6). Consequences of not making this choice may be read in Luke 13: 7, 22; 19:16-26; and Luke 14:15-24.
- Rabbi Tamah Davis