INSIGHT
5771 - #07

Chayei Sarah

TRANSITION

            While there is some disagreement as to when this custom began, since ancient times the Jewish People have read, on Shabbat and Yom Tov, a selection from the books of the Neviim, Prophets, in addition to the regular weekly reading of the Torah parsha.1 This haftara was chosen based on a similarity between this reading and the weekly Torah reading itself. The choice of Melachim I 1-31 as the haftara of Parshat Chayei Sarah is, thus, most interesting. On the surface, there would seem to be a simple connection between the parsha and the haftara. The former deals with the transition from Avraham Avinu to Yitzchak Avinu; the latter deals with the transition from Dovid Hamelech to Shlomo Hamelech. A closer look at the details expressed in both readings, however, may leave one a bit puzzled. The focuses of both readings do not seem to mesh. The haftara is the clear enunciation that Shlomo will follow Dovid, demanded because of the threat presented by Adoniyahu. It would seem that the most similar case to this in regard to Avraham and Yitzchak involves the expulsion of Yishmael which was presented in Parshat Vayeira.2 Chayei Sarah includes the actual transition from Avraham to Yitzchak; Avraham dies in this parsha. The haftara, in contrast, does not include the death of Dovid and the actual transition to Shlomo although Melachim continues in this regard. The haftara specifically concludes solely with the establishment of Shlomo as Dovid’s heir. These seemingly minor discrepancies between the haftara and the parsha lead me to conclude that there must be some idea in the parsha which we are overlooking that, in fact, the haftara wishes to highlight. Our challenge is to uncover this idea and, thereby, gain a greater understanding of the transition from Avraham to Yitzchak.

            In reviewing the parsha within this context, our first consideration may turn to Bereishit 25:5 which declares, after informing us of Avraham’s children through Ketura, that our first forefather gave everything to Yitzchak.3 Rashi explains that the verse is not referring to Avraham’s physical wealth but rather the power of blessing that God bestowed upon Avraham. In a certain, specific way this verse is referring to the transfer of Avraham’s legacy to Yitzchak, an action similar to Dovid’s transfer of the right of the monarchy to Shlomo. Yet, the verse in the chumash seems much more limited than the expanse of the transfer outlined in the haftara. In a most powerful narrative, the haftara describes one of the most important transitions in Jewish history. In a certain way, the very significance of the Davidic dynasty is thereby distinguished and declared. Dovid Hamelech is not a singular king whose legacy is tied just to himself. As the monarchy is transferred to Shlomo Hamelech, Dovid’s place within klal Yisrael continues into the future. It is this power in the transition from Avraham to Yitzchak that seems to be missing, a lacking, it would seem, highlighted by the haftara. Alternatively, though, the haftara may be indicating to us that the transition from Avraham to Yitzchak was just as powerful and instructive.

            Chayei Sara is dominated by the story of how Rivka Imeinu became the wife of Yitzchak. The starting point of the story, however, is most revealing. Bereishit 24:1 begins with the statement that Avraham is old and then continues with Avraham giving Eliezer the task to find a wife for his son. There is no mention of the fact that Yitzchak is alone, that Yitzchak has a need for a life-partner. The motivation to assist someone in finding a spouse fundamentally arises from the perception that this person feels a lack in his/her life; it is motivated by the desire to help this person. This context and motivation is not expressed in the text. Of course, this may be obvious and, thus, it was not necessary for the Torah to state it. But is not the fact that Avraham is advanced in age not also obvious? Furthermore, what does the text actually mean by stating this for Avraham still went on to marry again, father new children and live for many more years? It would seem, though, that the whole motivation to find a wife for Yitzchak emerges from this statement that Avraham was getting older. Of specific interest to us, though, may also be the fact that the haftara begins with a similar statement in regard to Dovid. The events that transpire in the haftara emerge because Dovid is advanced in age. The language of these two statements, one in regard to Avraham, the other in regard to Dovid, is exactly the same. It would seem that the verses are informing us that it is now a time for transition.4 If so, it would then seem that the story of how a wife for Yitzchak was found is actually part of the transition narrative from Avraham to Yitzchak. Yitzchak marrying would seem to be the beginning of the transition of forefathers.

            Within this same context, it may be interest to note that the transition from Yitzchak to Yaakov is also marked by, in that case, Yaakov’s search for a wife. We are told, in Bereishit 27:42-45, that Rivkah tells Yaakov to leave because he is in danger from Esav. Yitzchak’s direction to Yaakov that follows is to go to the house of Lavan to find a wife. Included in that directive is the statement of the transfer of Birkat Avraham, effectively Avraham’s legacy, to Yaakov. The transfer of the mantle of our forefathers, one to the next, seems to occur with the search for a wife for the one who will now assume the next role. These were not just marriages of individuals – although the verses make a point of informing us of the positive, personal relationship embodied within each of these marriages – but they were marriages that established the continuation of the legacy established with our forefathers.

            In the haftara, we are told that it is time for Dovid to be concerned with the transition of the monarchy and the steps he took to establish Shlomo as his heir. In the parsha, we are similarly told that it is time for Avraham to be concerned with the transition to the next stage in the foundation of am Yisrael and the steps he took to establish Yitzchak as the next forefather. It was within this context of becoming the next forefather that Yitzchak had to marry; in fact, this marriage was the first step in the transition from Avraham to Yitzchak.5

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

 


Footnotes

1 See, further, Encyclopedia Talmudit 10:1, Haftara. According to many, the custom actually began as a response to governmental edicts that forbade public readings from the Torah. For some reason, these authorities still allowed public readings from the Prophets.  Weekly readings of a haftara section reflecting a similar theme as would be found in the weekly Torah parsha were thus instituted. Even after these edicts were abolished, the custom of reading a haftara continued. In may be of interest to note, with Chanukah soon approaching, that Tosfot Yom Tov, Megilla 3:4 maintains that this edict forbidding public Torah readings was from Antiochus.

2 It is specifically in connection with the expulsion of Yishmael that God declares to Avraham that his progeny will come through Yitzchak. See Bereishit 21:12.

3 See, also, Bereishit 24:36.

4 See, also, T.B. Baba Metzia 87a.where this context may offer an interesting perspective on the words of the gemara.

5 It may be of interest to note that within this context Sarah is inherently different than the other imahot, for she was already married to Avraham when they became the first couple.

Nishma 2010While there is some disagreement as to when this custom began, since ancient times the Jewish People have read, on Shabbat and Yom Tov, a selection from the books of the Neviim, Prophets, in addition to the regular weekly reading of the Torah parsha.1 This haftara was chosen based on a similarity between this reading and the weekly Torah reading itself. The choice of Melachim I 1-31 as the haftara of Parshat Chayei Sarah is, thus, most interesting. On the surface, there would seem to be a simple connection between the parsha and the haftara. The former deals with the transition from Avraham Avinu to Yitzchak Avinu; the latter deals with the transition from Dovid Hamelech to Shlomo Hamelech. A closer look at the details expressed in both readings, however, may leave one a bit puzzled. The focuses of both readings do not seem to mesh. The haftara is the clear enunciation that Shlomo will follow Dovid, demanded because of the threat presented by Adoniyahu. It would seem that the most similar case to this in regard to Avraham and Yitzchak involves the expulsion of Yishmael which was presented in Parshat Vayeira.2 Chayei Sarah includes the actual transition from Avraham to Yitzchak; Avraham dies in this parsha. The haftara, in contrast, does not include the death of Dovid and the actual transition to Shlomo although Melachim continues in this regard. The haftara specifically concludes solely with the establishment of Shlomo as Dovid’s heir. These seemingly minor discrepancies between the haftara and the parsha lead me to conclude that there must be some idea in the parsha which we are overlooking that, in fact, the haftara wishes to highlight. Our challenge is to uncover this idea and, thereby, gain a greater understanding of the transition from Avraham to Yitzchak.

            In reviewing the parsha within this context, our first consideration may turn to Bereishit 25:5 which declares, after informing us of Avraham’s children through Ketura, that our first forefather gave everything to Yitzchak.3 Rashi explains that the verse is not referring to Avraham’s physical wealth but rather the power of blessing that God bestowed upon Avraham. In a certain, specific way this verse is referring to the transfer of Avraham’s legacy to Yitzchak, an action similar to Dovid’s transfer of the right of the monarchy to Shlomo. Yet, the verse in the chumash seems much more limited than the expanse of the transfer outlined in the haftara. In a most powerful narrative, the haftara describes one of the most important transitions in Jewish history. In a certain way, the very significance of the Davidic dynasty is thereby distinguished and declared. Dovid Hamelech is not a singular king whose legacy is tied just to himself. As the monarchy is transferred to Shlomo Hamelech, Dovid’s place within klal Yisrael continues into the future. It is this power in the transition from Avraham to Yitzchak that seems to be missing, a lacking, it would seem, highlighted by the haftara. Alternatively, though, the haftara may be indicating to us that the transition from Avraham to Yitzchak was just as powerful and instructive.

            Chayei Sara is dominated by the story of how Rivka Imeinu became the wife of Yitzchak. The starting point of the story, however, is most revealing. Bereishit 24:1 begins with the statement that Avraham is old and then continues with Avraham giving Eliezer the task to find a wife for his son. There is no mention of the fact that Yitzchak is alone, that Yitzchak has a need for a life-partner. The motivation to assist someone in finding a spouse fundamentally arises from the perception that this person feels a lack in his/her life; it is motivated by the desire to help this person. This context and motivation is not expressed in the text. Of course, this may be obvious and, thus, it was not necessary for the Torah to state it. But is not the fact that Avraham is advanced in age not also obvious? Furthermore, what does the text actually mean by stating this for Avraham still went on to marry again, father new children and live for many more years? It would seem, though, that the whole motivation to find a wife for Yitzchak emerges from this statement that Avraham was getting older. Of specific interest to us, though, may also be the fact that the haftara begins with a similar statement in regard to Dovid. The events that transpire in the haftara emerge because Dovid is advanced in age. The language of these two statements, one in regard to Avraham, the other in regard to Dovid, is exactly the same. It would seem that the verses are informing us that it is now a time for transition.4 If so, it would then seem that the story of how a wife for Yitzchak was found is actually part of the transition narrative from Avraham to Yitzchak. Yitzchak marrying would seem to be the beginning of the transition of forefathers.

            Within this same context, it may be interest to note that the transition from Yitzchak to Yaakov is also marked by, in that case, Yaakov’s search for a wife. We are told, in Bereishit 27:42-45, that Rivkah tells Yaakov to leave because he is in danger from Esav. Yitzchak’s direction to Yaakov that follows is to go to the house of Lavan to find a wife. Included in that directive is the statement of the transfer of Birkat Avraham, effectively Avraham’s legacy, to Yaakov. The transfer of the mantle of our forefathers, one to the next, seems to occur with the search for a wife for the one who will now assume the next role. These were not just marriages of individuals – although the verses make a point of informing us of the positive, personal relationship embodied within each of these marriages – but they were marriages that established the continuation of the legacy established with our forefathers.

            In the haftara, we are told that it is time for Dovid to be concerned with the transition of the monarchy and the steps he took to establish Shlomo as his heir. In the parsha, we are similarly told that it is time for Avraham to be concerned with the transition to the next stage in the foundation of am Yisrael and the steps he took to establish Yitzchak as the next forefather. It was within this context of becoming the next forefather that Yitzchak had to marry; in fact, this marriage was the first step in the transition from Avraham to Yitzchak.5

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

 


Footnotes

1 See, further, Encyclopedia Talmudit 10:1, Haftara. According to many, the custom actually began as a response to governmental edicts that forbade public readings from the Torah. For some reason, these authorities still allowed public readings from the Prophets.  Weekly readings of a haftara section reflecting a similar theme as would be found in the weekly Torah parsha were thus instituted. Even after these edicts were abolished, the custom of reading a haftara continued. In may be of interest to note, with Chanukah soon approaching, that Tosfot Yom Tov, Megilla 3:4 maintains that this edict forbidding public Torah readings was from Antiochus.

2 It is specifically in connection with the expulsion of Yishmael that God declares to Avraham that his progeny will come through Yitzchak. See Bereishit 21:12.

3 See, also, Bereishit 24:36.

4 See, also, T.B. Baba Metzia 87a.where this context may offer an interesting perspective on the words of the gemara.

5 It may be of interest to note that within this context Sarah is inherently different than the other imahot, for she was already married to Avraham when they became the first couple.

Nishma 2010




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2010 NISHMA