Chayei Sarah is an incredibly challenging Torah portion. There’s just so many things that happen, and for a woman there’s a lot to explore. Reading it this time, however, it was nothing about Sarah or Rebekah that got my attention. It was about Hagar, Yitzhak, and Yishmael.
Just as the story turns to Rebekah and Yitzhak meeting for the time — there is a line that got my attention (Gen 24:62):
And Yitzhak came from the way of Beer-lahai-roi; for he dwelt in the land of the South.
Yitzhak is returning from Beer-lahai-roi, the Well-of-the-Living-One-Who-Sees — Hagar’s well. This is the well that Hagar finds when she runs away from Avram and Sarai before Yishmael is born (Gen 16:14). I was astonished. After his mother dies, Yitzhak goes to Hagar and Yishmael?
But it gets more interesting. Later in Chapter 25 when Abraham dies — both Yitzhak and Yishmael bury him (Gen 25:9).
And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre;
First Yitzhak goes to Hagar and Yishmael and then there is enough peace between the brothers that they come together to bury their father. But, it’s even more amazing. The next several lines of the text name the twelve tribes of Yishmael. And then the text says that Yitzhak settled in the Negev — which is Yishmael’s land near the well of Beer-lahai-roi.
The text seems to go to great trouble to make sure we know that there was peace between Yitzhak and Yishmael before they died. I’d never seen this before. It really stunned me. The wisdom of the annual Torah reading cycle really is clear to me in moments like this. I need to start a cycle for the psalms and other writings to ensure that I’m reading them year after year and finding all I can in them.
[tags] torah, chayei sarah, interpretation, peace, yitzhak, yishmael[/tags]
Lech Lecha – לך־לך
Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
This is a hard passage. Like so many in Genesis there’s just so much that happens. So much of it I don’t like either. Avram is rewarded for sending Sarai off to the Pharoah’s harem? We don’t really get to hear her opinion of this either. Maybe Sarai thinks it will be a nice break. Maybe she didn’t really understand how beautiful she was. Maybe she was being tested. Maybe it was just the chain of events required for Avram to begin to understand his role in the world.
Avram hasn’t earned all that he’s given in this passage. He gets it because of who he is and nothing more. This reminds me of one of my least favorite expressions, “she doesn’t deserve ….”
This passage tells us Avram deserves riches because he’s holy. Avram is unique. He is a once ever kind of person. But what about now? What about when someone says they “deserve” to live in a nicer neighborhood or drive a better car? Does that mean that there is someone who deserves to live in the ghetto. We often say that someone doesn’t deserve to get sick. Does that mean that someone else does?
Does Sarah deserve to wait until she’s a crone to bear a child? Does Hagar deserve to be cast out? Do Issac and Ishmael deserve to be pawns in a greater scheme?
We all walk the road before us and everything that happens is a result of a myriad of choices. So go out from your father’s house and to the land promised for you. Not everything that happens to us has anything to do with us. Sometimes the rain just doesn’t fall. Sometimes the seeds just fail. But the sun will rise and the sun will set — and we must make choices about what we will do at these moments.
I think that may be the message of Lech-Lecha. Things happen to Avram because of his actions, but not because he always “deserves” things. Sometimes the road before us has strange dips and bumps. Maybe we’re not being punished, but tested. Or maybe what’s happening to us is actually a test for someone else and we’re just a player in a larger story.
Parshat Noach (נח) – (Genesis 6:9 – 11:13)
I recently learned about the addition of the line “Who makes the wind (ruach) to blow and rain to fall” to the daily prayer service this time of year. As I wasn’t raised in a house where daily prayers were even a consideration, i’m still catching up on what the traditions are in this area.
The addition of the prayer for rain is another earth-based tradition that I am rediscovering for myself. These words keep running through my head as I watch the clouds blow by and the rain fall in the morning and evening.
משיב הרוח ומריד הגשם
Mashiv haruach umorid hagashem
Who Causes the Wind to Blow and the Rain to Fall.
And now — we read Noach (Noah). Hmmm…..wind and rain seem to be recurring themes here too. Rain falling isn’t such a good thing here. Rain and tears = destruction of humanity. Wind blowing though, removes the clouds and restores hope. The word for wind (הרוח) used here is also the word for spirit.
So long as the earth endures,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Summer and winter,
Day and night
Shall not cease. (JTS)
Earth, wind, rain — earth-based Judaism has it’s clear foundations in the book of Genesis. The beginning is the earth and we return to her when our life is done. I know many that walk similar paths to me that don’t like to read scripture. Mostly because so much is male-dominated language and the ideas are counter to what they believe. Me, I love this stuff. I think the challenge is to figure out what we’re supposed to learn from it all and then what to do with what we learn.
p.s. This great shot of the ostriches sticking their heads out of the window was taken at a place called Thanksgiving Point Gardens in Utah by mharrasch. This person took a whole bunch of pictures of this place including quite a few of the Noah’s Ark sculpture.
Maybe I’ll try to find Flickr pics that relate to the weekly parshat! Oooohh….well, no promises, but I was inspired to search on “beresheit” this week. Enjoy!
בראשית בארא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ
B’reisheet barah Elohim et hashamayim v’et ha aretz
I love seeing earth-based Judaism in the first line of the Torah. If the Torah begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth, why shouldn’t my practice focus on the connection to these things?
Read the whole thing in English and Hebrew (and you can listen to it too!)
I originally wrote this on Halloween 2003
Someone asked me what I was doing on Halloween, especially considering that it falls on Shabbat this year. Even though Halloween/Samhain isn’t really part of my spiritual practice, I became curious about what the Torah portion for this Shabbat is. It turns out that it is The Flood and The Tower of Babel. I was floored.
As I re-read the passages, I was struck by the layers of extra meaning & symbolism I found by linking the two stories together. Two stories of destruction brought on by the failings of humanity; two stories where not only humanity learns lessons from choices made, but also G-d. It is strange to think of G-d ‘learning,’ but if man is made in G-d’s image and can grow and learn – why not G-d.
So often we are presented with an image of G-d as immoveable and unchanging through-out all time, but a careful reading of the Torah presents us with many examples of G-d growing and changing over time.
At the end of the story of Noah, G-d promises never again to wreak destruction on the world to punish humanity. In the very next story instead of drowning the world or reducing it to ashes, G-d acts surgically and goes right after the human world. Animals don’t really care if we all speak different languages.
Over and over, G-d reacts in new and different ways. Here a whole city is destroyed. There – a single person is punished. In our quests to grow closer to the Divine we should look to learn and grow and not remain unchangeable and steadfast when new information presents itself.