Tuesday, November 7, 2023

D'var Chayei Sara 2023

This week’s parsha is Chayei Sara - the life of Sarah - which begins, somewhat incongruously, with the death of Sarah. Abraham acquires a burial ground for her, ensuring the transaction is witnessed by the community. We then hear of Abraham’s instructions to his chief servant to find a wife for Isaac among Abraham’s kinsfolk. Rebecca shows her generosity in drawing water for not only the servant but also all of his camels. A marriage is arranged, and Rebecca agrees to depart. 

Something that always manages to surprise me when I come across it is that Abraham is then said to marry again and has more children. Some commentators say that this wife, Keturah, is none other than Hagar, renamed. Among the children they have is Midian, a tribe we hear about multiple times throughout the following books (Moses’ father-in-law Jethro was a priest of Midian, for instance!) These children receive gifts from Abraham during his life, while Isaac remains the sole heir.

We then come to the second death in the parsha, that of Abraham. Here is a part of the story I plan to consider further. 

וַיִּקְבְּר֨וּ אֹת֜וֹ יִצְחָ֤ק וְיִשְׁמָעֵאל֙ בָּנָ֔יו אֶל־מְעָרַ֖ת הַמַּכְפֵּלָ֑ה

His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah (Gen 25:9)

This is the first we see of Ishmael since he and his mother Hagar were sent away by Abraham, and the parting at the time was certainly a difficult one for Ishmael. 

The closing of the parsha recounts the descendents of Ishmael, and his death, the third and final one in the reading. 

So to sum up, within a reading called “the Life of Sarah”, we retell the deaths of three major actors in the story of our ancestors. This, as well as the presence of both Isaac and Ishmael together at Abraham’s burial, struck me this year, particularly given the war in Israel and Gaza.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

D'var Yitro 2023

In this week’s parsha, Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law bring Zipporah their children to join Moses and the Hebrews in the wilderness. They “ask after the other’s welfare”, and then Moses recounts the story of the exodus from Egypt. The next day, Moses sits as magistrate from morning until evening, resolving disputes.

Jethro asks him what he’s doing, why he acts alone. Moses says, “It’s because the people cme to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one party and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.”

But Jethro replies, “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow. You shall also seek out, from among all the people, capable individuals who fear God—trustworthy ones who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves.”