Sarah passed away and Abraham takes matters into his own hands, looking for a wife, first for Isaac and later in this Torah portion, also for himself (and some major commentators will tell us he got back together with Hagar).
Funny thing, we know how some of the Torah couple met (consider Adam & Eve; Jacob and Rachel) but not how Abraham and Sarah met. Since she was his niece (his brother’s daughter), and them being ten years apart, they probably (almost) always knew each other. Sarah was his wife, sister, soul-mate, but now, what about Isaac, who grew up alone in the “new land”?
In chapter 24 Abraham therefore sends his servant to go find a wife for his son. It’s an interesting exchange, that detail with the strange custom to place a hand on the thigh as a sign of a vow, or maybe even the whole ordeal – the fact that Isaac, now in his late thirties, almost 40, can’t go by himself to find his own wife but instead needs papa to send his own most trusted servant with his countless precious gifts?
But something else caught my eyes (and heart). Abraham gives the servant very clear instructions: “And if the woman be not willing to follow you, then you are cleared from this oath of mine; just do not bring my son back there” (8).
Yet at the same time, just a few verses earlier, Abraham described that “there” as his country and his homeland: “do not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but go to my country and to my kindred and take a wife for my son, for Isaac” (3-4).
And also: “God… who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my nativity, and who spoke unto me, and who swore unto me, saying: to you l I give this land…” (7).
For hundreds of generations we wrote poetic midrashim, love songs and prose to the Land of Israel. How beautiful it is, how wide and spacious, how lush with trees, milk and honey! Since forever, we called going away from Israel, “going down”, and coming to Israel, “going up”, even if one moves to live at the shores of the Dead Sea from the Himalayas – and vice-versa! Our love has never been doubted! At the same time, I can’t help but share a few words by Amos Oz, who wrote in his book “A Story of Love and Darkness):
“… Europe for my parents was a forbidden promised land, a longing district … The words “cabin”, “meadow”, “geese-herd girl “, enticed and moved me throughout my childhood days. They had the touch of a sensual real world, complacent, far from the dusty tin roofs, spikes junkyard and parched hillsides of Jerusalem suffocating under a world of bleached summer….”
So where is home? I remember hearing two men conversing in the aisle during a flight from NYC to Israel. “My daughter is now back here”, one told the other. Here, he said, while we were flying over Greenland… Here?
One of the questions I often dread is, ‘where are you from’?… but maybe it’s safe to say that the split personally that simultaneously calls two places home – we inherited directly from Abraham.