Chayyei Sarah

Usually, when God speaks to Abraham, Abraham responds, argues, even laughs at God’s words. Whenever he is told to do something, however, he simply gets on with it. He leaves his father’s land, circumcises himself and his household, and takes his son Isaac up the mountain for sacrifice. He is the supreme example of faith. Why doesn’t he question God about sacrificing his son? ”It would be sacrilege even to ascribe such an act to you – to kill the innocent with the guilty… Shall the whole world’s Judge not act justly?” are the words he doesn’t say. Abraham, the man who has himself acted justly throughout his life, who has given his nephew Lot the first choice of land when they separate their households and flocks, who has refused to take the spoils of war, who makes treaties of friendship with his neighbours, knows surely that God cannot be less just than him, but he does not question God’s command. Perhaps he senses that Isaac’s sacrifice is a logical impossibility. He has two choices: either he sacrifices Isaac or he doesn’t. If he chooses the latter option, Isaac lives. If he chooses the former, God will stop the sacrifice, as indeed He does.

The Akedah comes near the end of Va-yeira, but we are now come to Chayyei Sarah, in which Abraham buys the only land he will ever own, i.e. a burial place for his wife and, later, for himself. The overall spirit of this parsha is one of beauty and generous feeling set against a weaker, if disturbing, mercenary intent. Abraham willingly pays grasping Ephron over the odds for a burial plot. This transaction between honour and deceit is reflected later on when Abraham’s steward, thought to be Eliezer, meets Rebecca. She is all kindness, not only giving water to Eliezer, but also to his camels and in offering food and shelter to him, his men and their animals. Contrast this behaviour with the hint of greed shown by her brother Laban, who treats the visitors with hospitality, but notices first and foremost the gold ring and bracelets given to Rebecca.

It is, though, the minor character, Eliezer, who perhaps distinguishes himself most, for he is so overcome with joy at meeting Rebecca that he prostrates himself and exclaims, “Blessed be God, Lord of my master Abraham, who has not withdrawn the kindness and truth that He grants to my master.”

Blessed indeed be God, and to take part in blessings, prayers, songs and readings, come to this Shabbat service at 10:30. Harvey Kurzfield of melodious blessings will guide us.