Parshah Summary – P’shat
The parshah opens with Sarah’s death at the age of 127, after which Abraham buries her in the Cave of Makhpelah in Hebron, which he purchases from Ephron the Hittite for four hundred silver shekels.
Next, Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac in Haran. At the village well, Eliezer asks God for a specific sign: that when the maidens come to the well, he will request water from them. If one of the women gives him water and offers to water his camels as well, then she should be the one destined for his master’s son. Rebecca, the daughter of Abraham’s nephew Bethuel, appears at the well and passes the test. Eliezer is invited to their home, where he tells her family everything that has happened. Rebecca returns with Eliezer to the land of Canaan, where they encounter Isaac meditating in the field. Isaac marries Rebecca and is comforted over the loss of his mother.
Abraham marries another woman named Keturah, and they have six more sons. When the sons grow up, Abraham “sends them off to the east with gifts.” Abraham dies at age of 175 and is buried beside Sarah by his two eldest sons, Isaac and Ishmael.
Torah of Awakening
וְהָיָ֣ה הַֽנַּעֲרָ֗ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אֹמַ֤ר אֵלֶ֙יהָ֙ הַטִּי־נָ֤א כַדֵּךְ֙ וְאֶשְׁתֶּ֔ה וְאָמְרָ֣ה שְׁתֵ֔ה וְגַם־גְּמַלֶּ֖יךָ אַשְׁקֶ֑ה אֹתָ֤הּ הֹכַ֙חְתָּ֙ לְעַבְדְּךָ֣ לְיִצְחָ֔ק וּבָ֣הּ אֵדַ֔ע כִּי־עָשִׂ֥יתָ חֶ֖סֶד עִם־אֲדֹנִֽי׃
“Let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’—let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have done kindness with my master.”
- Bereisheet (Genesis) 18:1
Back in the summer of 1988, I was home from music school after Freshman year. One night, I went out with some high school friends to a diner. One of them surprised us with the news that he had met the girl of his dreams and they were getting married. “Really? Are you sure it’s the right thing?” we asked. We were only nineteen. The idea of getting married was inconceivable to us.
“I know it’s the right thing,” he replied. He then went on to recount all the serendipitous events “proving” to him that she was his perfect life partner. “I’ve never been so sure about anything in my entire life,” he said. Having never experienced that kind of certainty myself about anything, I was suspicious, but I didn’t question it further.
The next summer, in 1990, we all went out again, and he told us what horrors had transpired after they were married: She had stolen his car, emptied his bank account and disappeared. So much for serendipity!
Sometimes, in our enthusiasm to “trust the universe,” we give away our power to make decisions. Rather than ask ourselves the crucial questions, we instead look for signs and coincidences to confirm that we’re on the right track, that things are beshert…
וְהָיָ֣ה הַֽנַּעֲרָ֗ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אֹמַ֤ר אֵלֶ֙יהָ֙ הַטִּי־נָ֤א כַדֵּךְ֙ וְאֶשְׁתֶּ֔ה
וְאָמְרָ֣ה שְׁתֵ֔ה וְגַם־גְּמַלֶּ֖יךָ אַשְׁקֶ֑ה
“Let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels…’’’
At first glance, it might seem that Eliezer is making this same kind of mistake, relying on an external sign to tell him what to do, rather than using his own intelligence to find the right wife for Isaac.
Or is he?
If Eliezer had prayed that the girl should be wearing a purple dress, or have a really big hat, certainly that would have been arbitrary. But what does he say? He says that she should offer water to him and his camels. In other words, she should be a mentch – a kind and generous person. He’s not giving away his power in favor of superstition; he’s actually specifying the exact criteria by which to make his decision: she should be kind and generous; she should embody Hesed, loving-kindness. He doesn’t want Isaac to marry someone who will steal his money and his donkey! If she’s not a mentch, he’s not interested.
If you want to live with clarity and purpose, if you want to truly say “yes” to your life, you’ve got to be able to say a clear “no” as well. The “yes” and the “no” go together. Saying “no” can be really difficult. So many things can get in the way: stories in your head telling you what you “should” do, feelings of guilt for letting others down, or lack of trust in yourself. But, there are decisions that only you can make. Take your power in your hand and meet your destiny! Don’t be blown around by the winds of fate! This quality of being able to set boundaries and define your intention is Gevurah – inner strength – and it is the counterpoint to Hesed, (loving-kindness).
To be decisive doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust. Trust your ability to make your decision. Then, after you’ve made your decision, trust whatever happens next. Surrender to what happens. Ultimately, we have no control over how things unfold, but we always have the power to choose. Surrender to what happens is part of Jewish meditation – as Rashi said, “Accept what happens with simplicity.”
Are there decisions you are avoiding? Or, after you make decisions, are you easily derailed because you can’t say “no” to other things that come along? Do you ever blame others for your inability to follow through on your own decisions? Remember – your life is like a boat. The steering wheel is in front of you. Take it and steer; don’t wait for someone else, don’t blame anyone else. The ocean has its own currents, but you are the captain.
And, if you’re not sure yet which decision to make, that’s fine too. Be uncertain. Sometimes it’s wonderful to just go with the currents. Sometimes life really can be a magical tapestry of serendipity, effortlessly bringing you to good things. But sooner or later, that kind of magic ends, and the currents leave you drifting aimlessly, or even worse, headed toward the rocks. When that happens, take the wheel and decide which way to go; then, a new kind of magic begins
Each of us has a completely unique path with unique decisions to be made. But there is one decision that is completely universal. It’s the decision that each of us faces at all times: the decision to fully inhabit this moment. To fully inhabit this moment, the “yes” and the “no,” the Hesed and the Gevurah, must become one: “Yes” to what is, “No” to resisting what is. And yet, if a feeling of “resisting what is” arises, you must say “yes” to the presence of that feeling – because in that moment, “resistance to what is” – is what is! In this way, resistance is transformed into non-resistance; the “yes” and the “no” are completely one – Hesed and Gevurah are merged.
What is this moment like? Is it peaceful? Is it tense? Is it gentle? Is it harsh? Are you willing to decide, right now, to say “yes” to this moment, as it is?
This is actually the most important decision you will ever make, because it’s the foundation of all other decisions. Without this decision, there is unrest; there is struggle. But with this decision, your potential for real peace becomes manifest. With this decision, Moshiakh, the Messiah, is born within yourself, and we come a little closer to its birth in the world.
Martin Buber, in his essay Judaism and the Jews, tells the story that when he was a child, he read a Talmudic tale:
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi met the Prophet Elijah. He said to him, “When will the Messiah come?” Elijah answered, “Go ask him! The Messiah sits at the gates of Rome, waiting among the poor, afflicted with disease.”
- Sanhedrin 98
Buber says that he later came upon an old man whom he asked, “What does he wait for?
The old man answered, “He waits for you.”
In this week of Shabbat Hayei Sarah, the Sabbath of Life, may we remember our power to decide for this life, for this moment. May our efforts help move this world from its patters of violence to a new consciousness for humanity, and may a true and lasting peace be swiftly born in the world for love, wisdom and healing.
Read past teachings on Hayei Sarah HERE.
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