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Parashat Hayei Sarah 5783

November 14, 2022

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A D’var Torah for Parashat Hayei Sarah
By Rabbi Katy Allen (’05)

Hayei Sarah –
the life of Sarah
tells of her death.
Abraham is old,
nearing his death as well,
and he says to his servant,
I will make you swear—
I, Abraham, will make you,
another human being,
swear an oath unto G!d.
On my deathbed,
I will make you promise.

What right have we
to force someone else
to promise something
in the name of G!d?
Can it really be valid?
Can it really be sound to its core?

And, it’s about finding a wife
for his son, Isaac.
Swear, Abraham says to his servant,
swear in the name of all that is sacred and holy,
that you won’t take a wife for my son
from among these Canaanites,
but that you will go back
to the land of my birth
and find him a wife there.

Why is this command,
with such vehemence,
needed at all?
After all, we are taught in BT Sotah 2a
that “forty days before an embryo is formed
a Divine Voice issues forth and says:
The daughter of so-and-so
is destined to marry so-and-so.”
So, if it’s already decreed, it’s already foretold,
why does Abraham have to get so het up about it?

But we also read in Sotah 2a
that it is as difficult to match up
a man and woman in marriage
as it was to split the Sea of Reeds.

Wait! We know that it was G!d who split the sea,
but we also know that human action
preceded Divine action
in the form of Nahshon ben Aminadav
walking into the sea (Sotah 37a).

So, perhaps Abraham’s words to his servant
are like Nahshon’s willingness
to walk into the sea?

But there’s still the issue of Abraham
forcing his servant to swear
that he will go
to the land of Abraham’s birth
but that under no circumstances
will he take Isaac with him.

One wonders if Abraham said anything to Isaac,
or if this lack of direct communication
was a continuation of a troubled relationship
resulting from Abraham’s willingness
to sacrifice his son.
Perhaps the memory of that traumatic moment
is part of why Abraham is so vehement.
Or perhaps fear is a factor,
fear of the future,
that, as more than one sage has suggested,
if somehow or other — apparently against G!d’s decree —
Isaac married a Canaanite woman,
his claim on the land might come into doubt.

But isn’t there also,
in Abraham’s vehemence,
a lack of trust or faith in G!d?
With his close relationship to HaKadosh Baruch Hu,
wouldn’t Abraham have understood
that G!d was in charge of making the match for Isaac?

Maybe Abraham remembers that listening to G!d
hasn’t always served him and his family so well, (Meir Shalev, Beginnings: Reflections on the Bible’s Intriguing Firsts, p. 14)
and now he worries that things might again
be painfully difficult for his son.

Or, is it Isaac that Abraham doesn’t trust?
And is that, too, a bit of PTSD,
the lingering impact of the Akedah? (Hizkuni Gen. 24:8:1)
Maybe Abraham thinks Isaac doesn’t realize
that he is still
that having been an olah temimah — a total offering
on G!d’s altar on the Holy Mountain of Moriah —
he is forever bound to the Holy Land,
never to leave it.

There is, in this midrash,
something profound.

What tie holds us eternally in connection
to those moments of deep but sacred pain?
It is beyond trauma.
It is beyond comprehension.
It is having walked the narrow line
between fire and ice
and having experienced something
that no one else can ever understand.

Isaac is silent in this story.
He, perhaps, knew
that he mustn’t go away,
of her own free will,
and that then,
and only then,
would his partnership for the future
be a match
made in heaven.

We humans are bound to this Earth.
What is happening to it is beyond trauma.
It is beyond comprehension.
We are daily walking the narrow line
between fire and ice
and experiencing something
that no one has ever experienced before,
and that none of us has the capacity
to fully understand.

What is required of us
to enter into a partnership for the future
that might hold
at least the possibility
for a match
made in heaven?
Rabbi Katy Allen (’05) is the founder and rabbi of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She is the author of A Tree of Life: A Story in Word, Image, and Text and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma’yan Tikvah