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

“And afterward, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah
facing Mamre, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan. “(Genesis 23:19)

Parashat Chayei Sarah describes the first crisis of Jewish continuity. Abraham must find a wife for Isaac to fulfill God’s promise to become a “great nation.” (Gen. 12:2) So Abraham sends his servant, Eliezer back to “the old country” to find a suitable wife within the family clan, rather than choosing from the local Canaanite women. Eliezer prays to God for success in recognizing the right woman (Gen. 24:12-14). And then Rebecca appears at the village well.

Rebecca responds to Eliezer’s request for water by giving him drink and then drawing water for his camels (all ten of them!) without his asking. The Torah describes her actions: vat’maher (she hurried (twice)) and vataratz (she ran; Gen. 24:18, 20,). Then she offers Eliezer a place to stay. Eliezer recognizes this behavior: Rebecca echoes Abraham’s actions toward the three strangers, when he hurries to give them more than they asked. Eliezer realizes Rebecca is a worthy heir to Abraham’s tradition of hospitality and therefore is the one for Isaac, even before he knows anything of her spiritual and religious profile.

Hospitality is a theme running through the Torah; harping on the experience of being a stranger in Egypt is how the Torah emphasizes its importance. Rebecca’s hospitality is especially striking because Eliezer is a total stranger. So when the rabbis comment, “Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the Divine Presence” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 127a), they are espousing a theology of relationship: the human being right in front of you is the most sacred presence.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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