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Parashat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

“Sarah’s lifetime—the span of Sarah’s life—came to one hundred and twenty-seven years.” (Genesis 23:1)

Parashat Chayei Sarah describes a family in distress: Sarah dies in the second verse and Abraham and Isaac have not spoken since returning from Mt. Moriah. After Sarah is buried, the text discloses Isaac has settled in a place called B’er Lachai Roi (Gen. 24:62).

B’er Lachai Roi is where Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant (and Ishmael’s mother), goes when she runs from Sarah’s cruelty and is comforted by God’s angel (Gen. 16:7-14). There, Hagar names God El Roi, God Who Sees Me, and the well becomes B’er Lachai Roi, the Well of the Living One that Appeared to Me. Rabbi Shai Held (1971- ; scholar, theologian and President of Machon Hadar) believes Isaac’s move there is not accidental and speaks volumes about his state of mind while making a subtle but important theological statement.

Rabbinic lore claims Keturah, Abraham’s second wife, is really Hagar (Genesis Rabbah 61:4) and that Isaac goes to B’er Lachai Roi to bring Hagar home (Genesis Rabbah 60:14) so Abraham can marry her after Sarah’s death. Isaac, so recently traumatized by Abraham, empathizes with Hagar, traumatized by Sarah, his mother.  Isaac, in need of comfort, realizes he can provide the same to Hagar, also in need. Isaac, who feels invisible in the drama between Abraham and God, goes intentionally to the place known for being seen by God.

Held speculates Isaac’s mountaintop experience with an awesome and distant, violent God leaves him with a need for a down-to earth and up-close-and-personal, gentle God. So Isaac trades the momentary peak experience of God’s power for the sustaining oasis of God’s love.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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