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The Weekly Parsha
Chayei Sarah (The Life of Sarah)
* The first of 4 Torah portions named for a person, and the only one named for a woman, Sarah dies at age 127 and is buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron.
* Abraham’s servant, Eliezer is sent laden with gifts to Charan, to find a wife for Isaac. At the village well, Eliezer asks God for a sign: when the maidens come to the well, he asks for some water to drink. Rebecca offers water to him and to his camels and is selected due to her kindness to marry Isaac.
*Abraham takes a new wife, Keturah, and fathers six additional sons, but Isaac is designated as his only heir. Abraham dies at age 175 and is buried beside Sarah by his two eldest sons, Isaac and Ishmael.
More on Chayei Sarah:
Abraham acquires the Cave of Machpelah in order to bury his wife Sarah in the land that God promised to him and his family. Sarah died in Kiriyat Arba, which is adjacent to the city of Hebron -- one of the four holy cities in Israel (Jerusalem, Safed, and Tiberias being the other three). The word machpelah means double -- and our tradition speculates that the cave in Hebron was called this because it either contained two chambers (upper and lower), or it was named because of the couples that would be buried together there.
The Cave of Machpelah is the first recorded purchase of land in the Torah. Buying this land for his family plot indicates that Abraham is finished with his wanderings and is setting up a permanent home. It is revealing that in settling down, Abraham is living squarely among other groups of people -- in this case, the Torah goes into great detail regarding the negotiations between Abraham and Ephron ben Zohar, the Hittite, for the cave.
One way of reading this story of the Cave of Machpelah is that Abraham serves Sarah only when it is too late. He is described as coming to her place and eulogizing her -- implying that Abraham and Sarah lived apart from each other and that Sarah died without description and without his presence. The Torah teaches us to seize the day - to jump at the chance to make amends and constantly strengthen relationships with those with whom we have fallen out -- to not let a broken past define who we are today.
It is interesting how the Torah portion is named “The Life of Sarah” when the first thing that happens is her death. As the mother of our people, so much is ascribed to her as our Matriarch – and we learn, studying her life, about her kindness and her unkindness. Both she and Rebecca, who we subsequently get to know, wish that their sons (Isaac and Jacob) become the heirs and the writers of our history and these women go to great lengths to assure this!