Time travelling in NYC: You leave one side of the city and the GPS shows an hour to your destination. You drive for 20 minutes, check again, and lo and behold, you now have 50 minutes left. You drive another 15 minutes, check again, and, what do you know, you’re still only 55 minutes away…
The Romantic Torah:
This week’s reading, Chayey Sarah – “The Life of Sarah”, opens with Sarah’s death, and Abraham seeking to purchase for her a burial place, achuzat kever. Rabbi Hirsch (19th century Germany) shares a beautiful explanation. And so he writes:
“To interpret “achuza” as “property”, because the object is held – ne’echaz (which is from same root as achuza) is a mistaken interpretation. Achuza refers exclusively to land property, which is precisely what cannot be held. Further, in the instances the verb is used, the object (i.e. the land) is not held by tis owner but rather – the owner is held by the object…. Land holds its owner, and he is bound in its chains… This is also the reason why a person cannot take an oath on the land. This is because land outlines the person; the person is subordinate to the land rather than the land being subordinate to the person. Hence, he cannot subordinate the existence of the soil to the truth of his word”…
Likewise, Abraham wants a permanent place in the land, a place that will stay in the family long after he is gone. A place, that is not so much for her, as it is for him and future generations.
Interestingly, kever, the Hebrew word for grave, is the same word the Talmud uses for womb. Is it the hint for things that are deeply hidden? The end that is also a chance for a new beginning?
Abraham too will die at the end of this Torah reading.
And yet, framed by the deaths of these two giants, is one of the most beautiful love stories of the Torah, the meeting of Rebecca and Isaac, Rivkah & Yitzchak; a story that will culminate with the first time in the Torah a man will be described as loving a woman. Not Adam & Eve; not Noah and his dedicated (reluctant?) wife; not even Abraham & Sarah, but the almost speechless Yitzchak and the vivacious Rivkah.
What would Freud say about the last verse in Genesis 24?
וַיְבִאֶהָ יִצְחָק, הָאֹהֱלָה שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ, וַיִּקַּח אֶת-רִבְקָה וַתְּהִי-לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה, וַיֶּאֱהָבֶהָ; וַיִּנָּחֵם יִצְחָק, אַחֲרֵי אִמּוֹ. And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for his mother.
Isaac loves Rivkah as if he replaces his mom? The only challenge is that Rivkah is really a lot more like Abraham This is evident in the parallels between two stories: Genesis 18, when Abraham runs around to care for the guests, and Genesis 24, when Rivkah does the same to give water to the unknown servant as well as his ten camels. And if we missed it, commentators will remind us that gamal – camel – is at least linguistically related to gemilut chasadim, doing acts of kindness. And, consider this: most other Biblical men have a 2nd, 3rd and often many more – wife. Isaac has only one. He never leaves Israel. He never takes a second wife. He stands for gevura, strength, might, and is inspiring a solid, quiet, loyal presence.
And yet, they didn’t “invent” it all. There is another beautiful imagery the Talmud offers us when describing Abraham & Sarah’s final resting (Tractate baba Batra 58a). In the mind of the Torah and the Talmud, eternal love is totally possible and “normal”:
ר’ בנאה הוה קא מציין מערתא כי מטא למערתא דאברהם אשכחיה לאליעזר עבד אברהם דקאי קמי בבא א”ל מאי קא עביד אברהם א”ל גאני בכנפה דשרה וקא מעיינא ליה ברישיה
רב בנאה היה מציין (ממפה) מערות (קבורה). כשהגיע למערתו של אברהם, פגש באליעזר, עבר אברהם עומד בפתח (המערה). אמר לו (רב בנאה לאליעזר): מה עושה אברהם (עכשיו)? אמר לו (אליעזר לרב בנאה): אברהם שוכב בחיקה של שרה, והיא מסתכלת לו בראשו.
Rabbi Bena’a was marking burial caves (he was doing that so people know where there are burial places which would help prevent contracting of ritual impurity). When he arrived at the cave of Abraham, (the Cave of Machpelah), he chanced upon Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, standing before the entrance. Rabbi Bena’a said to him: What is Abraham doing (right now)? Eliezer said to him: He is lying in the arms of Sarah, and she is examining his head.