Chayei Sarah is a monumental Torah portion in the Book of Genesis (23:1-25:18) that establishes Hebron as one of our people’s holiest cities in the land of Israel.
The sidra begins by telling the story of Abraham buying burial space in the Cave of Machpelah for his wife Sarah. That site would become holy to Judaism and Islam through the generations, and the city of Hebron, which is overwhelmingly Arab with a small enclave of right-wing Jewish religious extremist settlers, is a hot spot between Israel and the Palestinians today.
The parashah also tells the moving story of Isaac’s and Rebekah’s meeting, betrothal and marriage arranged by Abraham through his servant Eliezer who his master sent to find a wife for his son Isaac.
For the first time in Jewish history we witness the passing of the baton of inheritance and leadership from one generation to the next.
I offer here a poetic Midrash on Isaac’s and Rebekah’s encounter leading to their marriage. It is based loosely on the Torah story as amplified by rabbinic Midrash and is a revisiting of a poem I wrote a few years ago and posted on this blog.
I love this story because Isaac’s and Rebecca’s meeting is simple and sweet. It offers a the hope of what’s possible between individuals and tribes that make up the Jewish people today and the peoples of the Middle East who suffer too much polarization, suspicion, distrust, and hatred of each other.
Imagine the scene – Isaac is alone meditating in an open field and Rebecca and Abraham’s servant Eliezer approach from afar in a camel caravan. I shift voices in the poem between Isaac, Rebekah and Eliezer. I begin with Isaac:
“To be alone amidst shifting wheat and rock, / Beneath the sun and stirred-up clouds / Hearing singing angels audible in the wind.
I’ve secluded myself as my father did / When he went out alone leaving all he knew / For a place he’d never been that God would show him.
I can do nothing else / Because Father broke my heart and crushed my soul / When he betrayed me by nearly offering me to his God / Stealing me away one morning before my mother Sarah awoke.
When my mother learned her soul passed from the world./ O how she loved me! / And filled me up with laughter, love and tears. / Bereft now I’m desolate in this field.
Compassionate One – / Do You hear me from this arid place / Filled with snakes and beasts, / Polluted by hatred and vengeance?”
As if in response from afar / A caravan appears of people and camels, / Led by Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, / With a young girl.
Isaac, burdened in grief neither looks nor sees. / He sits still lasuach basadeh / Meditating and weeping / Beneath the afternoon sun / And swirling clouds / And singing angels / Whom he cannot hear.
Rebekah asks: / “Who is that man crying alone in the field?” / Eliezer says: / “He is my master Isaac, your intended one, / Whose seed you will carry and make the future.”
“Vatipol min hagamal – And she fell from her camel” / Shocked and afraid onto the hard ground.
She veiled her face and bowed her head. / And Rebekah and Isaac entered Sarah’s tent, / And Rebekah comforted him.”
Poem by Rabbi John L. Rosove based on traditional Midrashim