Abraham’s children in the Galil – The Torah portion of Chayey Sarah

Around the months of October to December there are extra traffic jams throughout the Galil. Shortly after sunset, long rows of cars meander through the winding roads, as those busy with the mesik – olive picking – unable to continue working in the dark orchards, hurry to the local beit bahd, where one’s olives can be turned into oil. People show up with anything from a truck load to a private sedan, sagging to the ground, proudly unloading their buckets and bags. The whole process is intense and exciting. No longer operated by horse or donkey who turned a big branch which gave the place its name (bahd being that hefty branch) and was tied to a big round rock that crushed the olives on another giant round rock, batei bahd are now modernized, run by sophisticated mechanical equipment. The olives are placed on a long conveyor belt to be sorted from leaves and small branches, then washed and cleaned, before transferred on (mechanically, no hands) to be crushed, then processed through centrifuges that further separate the water and “meat” in the olives from the oil in them. Finally, the sought out greenish-goldish thick liquid comes out, smelling like delicious freshly cut grass.

At times, the wait can be extremely long. If you’re after that truck, have a coffee. And maybe a shaky plastic cup overflowing with bubbly Coca-Cola. And how about another coffee. And maybe a piece of honey dripping, cheezie kenaffe (sweet Arabic dessert)? A number of the big batei bahd (plural for the oil-pressing places) are in Arabic villages. At times, the “conflict” and “situation” seem endless with no way out. And at times, Yishmael and Yitzchak are sitting together, drinking strong Turkish coffee, talking about this and that and nothing in particular, waiting for the noise to calm down and the oil to drip out.

The Torah in this week’s reading, reminds us that later in their lives, without “outside” input and when left to achieve a common task or goal, Yishma’el and Yitzchak get along peacefully and can easily get it done. It’s very possible they even like each other; that they learn to let each be who he is, appreciating their very different, though possibly complimentary, gifts. Olives and olive oil have always been symbolic of peace and pure light. Maybe that’s a place to start shining nowadays too.


This week’s reading, Chayey Sarah – “The Life of Sarah”, opens with Sarah’s death, and Abraham seeking to conduct the first significant Land purchase in our history; that of a burial place for her, an 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 (like the ram in the binding,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 its 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.

Shabbat Shalom.

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