This week’s Sedra, Chayei Sara, the life of Sarah, begins with her own death and ends with the death of Abraham. In between we read the purchase of the cave of Machpelah, the betrothal of Rebecca to Isaac and the coming together of Ishmael and Isaac. It is the story of Rebecca that is fascinating.
Chayei Sarah contains what may be the only instance in the Torah of a parent asking his child’s wishes. Laban and Betuel want Rebecca to remain in Haran for a time and, they ask Rebecca to state her preference. Contrary to her family’s express wishes, Rebecca decides to leave immediately.
Rebecca is both physically and ethically strong and self-confident. She can lift a heavy water urn with ease! When she sees Isaac in the distance for the first time, she veils herself. We tend to think of the bedecken ritual before a marriage as a reminder of the deception practiced upon Jacob, to ensure he is marrying the right bride. Rebecca seems to be saying ”accept me for who I am and not for my appearance”.
When she gives water to Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, and his camels, she fulfils Eliezer’s prayer, in which he appealed to God to find a fitting wife for Isaac. He seeks chesed. Rebecca has this.
What do we understand by chesed? It is a basic Jewish word and concept. When Myles Coverdale in 1535 CE translated the Bible into English, he could not find an appropriate word and invented the hyphenated word loving-kindness.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel used to say:
When I was young, I admired cleverness. Now that I am old, I find I admire kindness more.
Describing the death of Abraham, our parashah says that he “breathed his last and died in good old age, old and satisfied”.
The best portions of a good man’s or woman’s life are the little, nameless, sometimes unremembered, acts of kindness and of love.