Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hayei Sarah

As I was rereading this parasha I was thinking how strange it must sound to today's young (and even not-so-young) people.

  • Avraham calls his servant and instructs him to find a wife for Yitzhak, his son with his wife Sarah, who has recently died.  
  • We have no evidence he discussed this plan with Yitzhak - in fact, we have no evidence that Avraham and Yitzhak ever spoke to each other after the incident we call the Akeidah, when Avraham appears to have been ready to sacrifice his son.
  • We read that the servant takes many gifts with him as proof that his master is wealthy.
  • The servant describes some sort of magical test by which he will know how to choose the bride-to-be that has to do with her hospitality to strangers and kindness to animals.
  • He repeats (with a few minor alterations) his master's instructions to the father and brother of this young woman he wants to bring back home to his master for Yitzhak.
  • The father and brother of the bride-to-be accept the offer with no information other than about the wealth of the family.
  • The brother and mother of Rivka (the bride-to-be) ask for a few days to prepare her for the journey
  • Rivka say's she'll go, and she does - accompanied by her nanny.
  • Her family receives many gifts in return.
  • She still doesn't know anything at all about the groom to whom she will be married - not even his name!
Well, that certainly doesn't sound much like today's world - except in some cultures we and our students would consider backward and anti-feminist.  So what questions might we raise to make this episode meaningful to today's audience?
Questions to consider:
  1. In a time and place when families might live in little contact with other families, how would a young person be able to meet a mate?
  2. What appears to be important to Avraham in choosing the mate for his son? 
  3. What at first appears to be important to Lavan in deciding whether his sister should go with the servant?
  4. What do Lavan and Betuel say is the deciding factor?
  5. Does Rivka have a choice?
  6. What do you think we are supposed to learn from this story?
Sources:  If you want to read the entire chapter that tells this story, go to Chapter 24 in the Bible. Here are some excerpts:
24:[3]  Swear by Adonai, the God of heaven and of earth, that you won't take a wife for my son from the Canaanite people among whom I live.  [4]  But go to my country, to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Yitzhak
[6] And Avraham said to him,  "Be sure you don't take my son back there."
[29] And Rivka had a brother named Lavan.  He ran to the man outside, to the fountain.  [30]  And when he saw the ring and bracelets on his sister's hands, and when he heard his sister Rivka's words, 'this is what the man said to me'

...(the servant repeats essentially what Avraham has told him)...

[50]  Then Lavan and Betuel answered and said,  'The thing comes from Adonai.  We can't say whether it is a good or bad thing.  [51]  Here's Rivka in front of you - take her and go,and let her be your master's son's wife, as Adonai has spoken.
[55]  And her brother and her mother said, 'Let the young woman stay with us a few more days - after that she'll go.
[58] And they called to Rivka and said to her,  "Will you go with this man?"  And she said, "I will go". [59] and they sent Rivka their sister, and her nanny, and Avraham's servant and his men.

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