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Chayei Sarah – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This week we read Chayei Sarah,” The life of Sarah”, but it actually opens with her death. The Parashah will go on to another death, that of Abraham. In between is the story of Isaac and Rebecca.

As Sarah dies, Abraham is facing the prospect that this was unfinished business. He had received promises from God: a land, and the assurance that he would be the father, not of one nation but of many nations. At the age of 137, he had one unmarried son, no land, and had fathered no nations What God had promised required action.

The purchase of the cave of Machpelah would fulfil the first requirement but finding a wife for Isaac would be necessary.

It is here that we properly encounter Isaac, and we know less about him than about Abraham and Jacob. His life would not be flamboyant but quiet and somewhat introspective. We meet him meditating in a field. There is a Midrash that he spent time healing the breaches with Ishmael and Hagar. This explains the marriage to Keturah, (who it is suggested was actually Hagar) and why both brothers are present to bury Abraham. Rebecca becomes the guiding force in the story to come.

Rebecca’s act, in watering the camels, proved to Eliezer, (believed to be the servant sent by Abraham), that she had fulfilled the requirement -

כִּֽי־עָשִׂ֥יתָ חֶ֖סֶד
You have performed loving kindness

The Hebrew word “Hesed” had no known English translation and Miles Coverdale invented the phrase “loving kindness” in his translation of the Bible

Abraham would go on to die “in good old age, old and satisfied”; something for which we all wish. He had secured land, married off his son and fathered many nations, including the sons of Ishmael and sons of Keturah. But was that enough?


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.

Rather than just seeking to be just satisfied with our deeds, seek to be remembered for kindness. “Hesed” is something we can all pursue, and it should be our own remembrance.

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