Though the only parasha denoting a woman’s name, Chaye Sarah encompasses the final years of Abraham’s life and the fulfilment of God’s promise to him that he would become the father of a great nation making his descendants ‘as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sand upon the seashore’ (Gen. 22:17).
Abraham buries Sarah at 127 years of age in the cave of Machpelah which he bought from Epron the Hittite despite Epron’s offer to give it away. Though only a small part of the Promised Land, this plot becomes the origin of the initial and legitimate claims of the Israelites to this land as their homeland and possession. In doing do, Abraham fulfils the beginnings of the second of God’s promise; ‘I am the Eternal who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to assign this land to you as a possession’ (Gen 15:7). Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac from amongst his people of origin with clear instructions about who could possibly be suitable as the wife of the next Patriarch. Out of this enterprise emerges Rebekah, fated to be the right girl in the right place. Rebekah becomes a comfort to Isaac after the loss of his mother and of course the second Matriarch of the People.
Abraham and Isaac it seems do not speak again after the experience of the Akedah and despite the potential of Isaac and Rebekah’s union, Abraham marries again to Keturah who also provides descendents who are sent Eastwards away from his chosen inheritor Isaac. Finally Abraham dies and Isaac and Ishmael come to bury him in Machpelah but they too then go their separate ways. The lineage of the 12 tribes of Ishmael concludes this parasha poignantly depicting the separation of peoples that have descended from their patriarch Abraham.
So in the final analysis, one of God’s promises remains unfulfilled in Abraham’s life, that of becoming a blessing to all the peoples. ‘I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.’ (Gen 12:2-3). Despite his early identification with the One God and his faithfulness to God in leaving home, coming to a Promised land and fathering a new dynasty, Abraham could not fulfil the hardest task of a human life; to bequeath a legacy of blessing to all and a harmony among differing peoples and cultures.
That task is left to all his descendents in the West and the East to which an evolved Judaism now exists to fulfil. Perhaps a hint of that possibility lies in the last rather enigmatic phrase of the parashah; al p’nai kol echav nafal – ‘they settled alongside all their kinsfolk’ (Gen 25:18) which is an allusion to the blessing given to Ishmael (Gen 16:12). Perhaps one day we will again settle in harmony and peace alongside all of Abraham’s descendents and thereby bring blessing to all the inhabitants of the world.
Rabbi Dr Michael Shire
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.