Tag Archives: Hagar

Funerals and a Wedding

The Cave of Machpelah - Vincent van Gogh
The Cave of Machpela by Vincent Van Gogh

This week’s parsha begins with the news that Sara Imeinu (our matriarch) had died in Qiryat Arba at the age of 127. Abraham came to mourn and weep for her and to find a fitting burial place for his beloved wife.  Although the cave of Machpela was offered to him as a gift, he insisted on paying for it.  The text reads, “And the field of Efron, which was in Machpela,which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was in it,  and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made over to Avraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Chet,…before Mamre: the same is Hevron in the land of Canaan.” ( Ch. 23 v 17 -19)

Avraham paid full price for this small piece of property, also known as Hebron, in front of witnesses so that there would never be a question of ownership.

chayei sarah0040
Abraham’s Journey by Laya Crust

At the end of this week’s reading Abraham died and his two sons- Isaac and Ishmael-came together as brothers and buried their father in the cave of Machpela, where Sara his wife had been buried. There had been a separation in the family after Isaac was born. Ishmael and Hagar were sent away because Sarah was adamant that Ishmael was a bad influence in Isaac’s life. It’s quite a testament to the strength of Abraham’s personality that the two half brothers united and buried their father together and without rancour. The ability to live apart but with respect was not the situation in King David’s family.

The haftarah is from the Book of Kings and concerns the last days of King David. After leading the nation of Israel through many battles, King David was old and ailing. In his illness and on his deathbed he was always cold. The court found a young and beautiful maiden, Avishag the Shunemite, to attend to him and “keep him warm”. The last days of two King David in the haftarah and the patriarch Abraham in the Torah reading link the haftarah to the Torah reading: .

Heir to the Throne by Laya Crust

This scene shows King David on his deathbed. Avishag, his attendant is there along with Bathsheba his wife, and Nathan the prophet. The calm scene in the picture belies the bloodshed and jockeying for leadership that was going on outside David’s chamber walls.

The ailing king had not yet appointed an heir to his throne. Although David had promised Batsheva that their son Solomon would be the next king of Israel, it had never been officially announced. There was a vicious power struggle among his sons and Adonijah, was about to declare himself king. Nathan the prophet knew that David had to announce his successor before his death to prevent a possible civil war. He also knew that David would listen to Bathsheba. “Then Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother….’Go immediately to King David and say to him, “Did not you, O lord king, swear to your maidservant: ‘your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit upon my throne.’ ?”   ( 1 Kings 1: 11, 13 )   When Adonijah announced himself king, Nathan and Bathsheba approached King David.

David was a great warrior and beloved king, but his leadership skills as a father left much to be desired. The fighting continued among his sons. In contrast Isaac and Ishmael reunited at Abraham’s funeral. Isaac had been chosen as heir and leader of Abraham’s legacy and Ishmael accepted that.

David was always in conflict with the nations surrounding him, and brilliantly led the battles that needed to be fought. Abraham fought as a last resort, attempting to make compromise and make peace when possible. Maybe Abraham’s non-confrontational policy paved the way so that his estranged sons could meet in peace and live parallel but non-combatant lives.

May all parents and leaders choose paths of dialogue and peace. Maybe then the world will be a safer and peaceful place.

Have a Shabbat Shalom.

The scene of David surrounded by Avishag, Bathsheba, and Nathan is one of the paintings in my forthcoming book, “Illuminations”. Stay tuned for more information!

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Sarah and the Divine

VaYeira Sig
art by Laya Crust

Vayeira- Genesis 18 – 22 Haftarah- Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37

This week’s parsha is a series of at least five incredible narratives, each worthy of detailed study. Today I will focus on Sarah, the woman chosen to be the mother of the Jewish nation.

When Gd told Avraham to leave his homeland and that he would become the father of a great people, he left Ur Kasdim, taking his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him. Sarai was 75 years old when she and her husband left their home for an unknown destination. She was described as beautiful- so beautiful that King Avimelech took her to his harem. We may wonder how a woman of 75 can be that appealing, but some have an ageless beauty that is enhanced by grace and wisdom.

etching by Laya Crust

Gd chose Sarai to be the mother of His nation. Her name was changed from Sarai to Sarah at the same time Avram’s name was changed to Avraham. Twice Gd protected her from the leaders of alien nations- first from the pharaoh of Egypt and later from Abimelech, the king of Gerar. After Sarah suggested that her handmaiden bear a son to Avraham Gd made it clear to Avraham that Sarah was to be the matriarch of the nation and that no other woman would fulfill that role.

In this parsha, the Lord told Avraham that he and the men in his group would need to be circumcised. Then Gd had told Avraham that he and Sarah would have a child together. It seemed so ridiculous Avraham fell on his face and laughed. Gd declared that the baby would be called Isaac, after the Hebrew word “to laugh”.

The circumcision was, and is, the sign of the covenant between Gd and the Jewish people. Sarah did not become pregnant until after Abraham was circumcised. As a dear friend pointed out, the covenant between Jews and Gd had to be initiated before the line of the Jewish people was created.

Abraham and Sarah by Marc Chagall

Like Avraham, Sarah laughed when she heard she was to bear a child at the age of 90. When Sarah laughed “within herself” Gd asked Avraham why she had laughed. The question was actually two questions. Did Avraham not tell his wife and partner that she was to become pregnant and have a child? Is that why she was incredulous and laughed? The second question was – why did Avraham and Sarah still not believe that Gd can make unusual and unexpected things happen? The Torah and commentaries seem to criticize Sarah for laughing when she heard the news, but the rebuke wasn’t just to Sarah. It was to Abraham as well. That whole incident can be seen as a larger conversation Gd had with Sarah, the future matriarch.

There are many criticism of Sarah and her attitude towards Hagar. We can’t judge. Life and community were very different in biblical times. Recognizing her infertility Sarah offered her handmaid Hagar to her husband, hoping that way he would become a father. Recognizing Hagar’s behaviour Sarah handled the situation as she thought she had to. When the three angels appeared at their tent in the desert Avraham and Sarah worked as a team to create a feast for them. It appears that Sarah ran her community with wisdom and level-headedness.

May we learn from Sarah’s strengths and have wisdom in dealing with our challenges.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya

The illustration at the top of the page is from the haftarah of VaYeira. It shows the prophet Elisha with the Shunammite woman who had a room built for him for when he visited Shunem. This woman, like Sarah, was childless for many years. Her son, like Isaac, almost died. Unlike Sarah, she was able to watch her son grow to adulthood.

The print is from my collection of 82 paintings of the haftarot. The collection is currently on display at Beth Tedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. The address is 1500 Bathurst Street. The exhibit is free and open to the public 7 days a week, 9 a.m. through 9 p.m. I am currently working on a book focusing on the haftarah paintings and their meanings.

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Chayei Sarah 5777

Related imagelithograph, Marc Chagall

This week’s parsha begins with the death of Sarah and ends with the death of Abraham. Sarah and Abraham were partners in their lives. They were ten years apart in age. They probably grew up together- Abraham told King Avimelech that they were married but they were half siblings- they had the same father.

The Torah focuses on Abraham. He follows Gd’s instructions and leaves his birthplace, he makes a covenant with Gd, bargains with Gd, travels throughout the land, and agrees to circumcision as a proof of his allegiance to Gd. Throughout all this Sarah is at Abraham’s side, almost a silent partner.

Sarah was a beautiful woman. “Behold now, I know you are a beautiful woman to gaze upon…” (Genesis 11: 11) Abraham was afraid  he would be killed if another leader wanted to marry Sarah. They discussed it. Sarah agreed to say she was Abraham’s sister. “And it came to pass that when Avram came to Mitzrayim [Egypt], the Mitzrim [Egyptians] beheld the woman that she was very fair. The princes of Par’o saw her and commended her to Par’o and the woman was taken to Par’o’s house.” (Genesis 11: 14, 15) Abraham had been correct. Sarah was very beautiful and she was taken by the Par’o- and that happened twice! (Spoiler- Gd intervened each time and she was returned to Abraham by each of the two rulers)P1140345

Sarah, etching by laya Crust

The point is that it seems Abraham and Sarah were true partners. They started their life’s journey together and discussed things as situations arose. They stayed together as a couple even though Sarah was barren. She accepted Gd’s word. When she understood that Abraham needed to have a son to build a nation she offered her handmaid Hagar to Abraham. Her understanding of situations was broad and deep. She said, “…when she [Hagar] saw that she had conceived , I was despised in her eyes.” (Genesis 16:5) Sarah realised at that point that Hagar would not allow her son to be raised by Sarah and Abraham in order to be an appropriate leader with Gd’s message. Instead Hagar felt superior to Sarah and would, in that case, naturally retain the molding of her baby’s character and behaviour.

It is hard to understand the breakdown in communication when Abraham is directed to take Isaac to Mount Moriah in order to  sacrifice Isaac. How could Abraham not have discussed this with his wife, the mother of their son, the visionary always at his side?

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin suggests that Sarah did know what was happening. He suggests that Sarah heard Abraham in his preparations early in the morning. When she looked and saw Abraham packing a knife for “shechita” (ritual slaughter) and planning to take Isaac with him, she was concerned. Rabbi Riskin writes, “Sarah demands to hear G-d’s precise words, saying: “He didn’t say that you should slaughter our child; He merely said to lift him up, to dedicate him to Divine service. G-d could not possibly have commanded you to slaughter an innocent child!”

P1150568drawing by Laya Crust

While Abraham and Isaac were climbing up  the mountain for the sacrifice Sarah went in another direction. She went to Kiryat Arba/ Hebron to the place where, according to midrash, Adam and Eve were buried. There she prayed to Gd to stay Abraham’s hand and save her son.

She died there. Neither Abraham nor Isaac saw her again.

Abraham and Isaac didn’t see each other again after the “akeida” (binding of Isaac), and Gd didn’t speak to Abraham after that incident. It seems Abraham lived out the rest of his life quietly with no further leadership moments. He remarried, had 12 more sons and was buried beside his beloved Sarah by Isaac and Ishmael.

Sarah was the partner, the sounding board and support to Abraham. She accompanied him from their birthplace steeped in idol worship to a new land. She established a home open to visitors and partnered in nurturing a new belief system. Sarah knew how fragile their mission was. She did all she could to  shield her son- the future of the nation- from negative influences. When she died the matriarch of Gd’s new nation died, and Abraham was left without his equal and partner.

At the end of “Chayei Sarah” we read that Isaac married Rebecca. “And Isaac brought her (Rebecca) into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife. And he loved her, and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:67)

And so it goes. And the story continues.

Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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Sarah – שרה

VaYeira Sigart by Laya Crust

Vayeira- Genesis 18 – 22

Haftarah- Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37

This week’s parsha is an incredible series of stories and events. There are at least five incredible narratives, each worthy of detailed study. Sarah, Avraham’s wife, figures throughout the parsha, and I’d like to look at her personality this week.

Avraham is the major character in these stories of Bereshit.  Gd told Avraham to leave his homeland and that he would become the father of a great people. Avraham left, taking his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him. As I read about Sarai- whose name was changed to Sarah- I am struck by her strength, her wisdom, and her relationship with Avraham. She was 75 years old when she and her husband left their home for unknown reaches. She was described as beautiful- so beautiful that King Avimelech took her to his harem. We may wonder how a woman of 75 can be that appealing, but some have an ageless beauty that is enhanced by grace and wisdom.

P1140345drawing by Laya Crust

I think Sarah also had a spark of humour and joy of life that contributed to being timelessly attractive. Her sense of humour?- she heard the angels speak and laughed within herself- laughing at herself and the thought of becoming a mother in her nineties. Her joie de vivre? She enjoyed her relationship with Avraham, “sporting” with him (AKA fooling around) in a field!

The readings suggest that Sarah and Avraham had a strong  partnership. They traveled together and discussed the strategy for entering Avimelech’s kingdom. Recognizing her infertility she offered her handmaid Hagar to her husband, hoping that way he would become a father. Recognizing Hagar’s behaviour Sarah handled the situation as she thought she had to. When the three angels appeared at their tent in the desert Avraham and Sarah worked as a team to create a feast for them. It appears that Sarah ran her community with wisdom and level headedness.

The situation surrounding “akeidat Yitzhak”, the binding of Isaac, doesn’t fit the picture of a strong relationship. It doesn’t seem that Avraham told Sarah that he had been commanded to sacrifice their beloved son.  A midrash (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midrash) says that Sarah heard a rumour that Isaac had been sacrificed by Avraham. According to that midrash Sarah died, never knowing that her son was alive. We don’t know what really happened, or why Avraham didn’t tell Sarah what he had been commanded to do. Maybe Avraham was trying to protect her. Maybe Avraham trusted that Gd would make things “right” and there would be no sense in alarming her. We just don’t know.

The illustration at the top of the page is from the haftarah of VaYeira. It shows the prophet Elisha with the Shunammite woman who had a room built for him for when he visited Shunem. This woman, like Sarah, was childless for many years. Her son, like Isaac, almost died. Unlike Sarah, she was able to watch her son grow to adulthood.

It is tragic that Sarah seemed to have died not knowing her son was alive, not knowing that she would be venerated as the mother of the Jewish nation.

She is a wonderful model for all women, and her strengths should never be overlooked.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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VaYeira- Women and Mothers


VaYeira Sig

Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37

Elisha- (prophet) c.   720 BCE

In this Haftarah Elisha the prophet saves a woman from the ruin of debt by miraculously providing her with enough oil to pay her creditors. A second story in the parsha concerns a woman from Shunem who builds and furnishes a room for Elisha to stay in when he travels through the town. In gratitude Elisha blesses the woman and her husband with a child who will be born in the coming year. A few years later the son dies. The Shunammite woman confronts Elisha asking him why he had given them a child only to have him taken away so cruelly. Elisha brings the boy back to life. (This is possibly the first description of mouth to mouth resuscitation in history).

In the parsha illustration we see the room on the roof with the furnishings described in verse 10. There are also 3 pots of oil, alluding to Elisha’s aid to the widow in the previous story.

The over arching theme of this week’s readings is one of faith. For instance, Sarah is expected to believe- have faith- in three strangers. They tell her that she will become pregnant and raise a child.  Sarah is a 90 year old childless woman! Can you imagine running around after a toddler in his terrible twos when you are 92 years old? Changing his diapers? I can’t- but I digress. The point is that she and her husband Abraham are expected to believe what Gd communicates to them.

Faith is indeed a theme in these stories but there’s another strong idea. That is one of motherhood and the relationship of a loving mother to her children. Each of the women we read about- Sarah, Hagar, Lot’s wife , Lot’s daughters, the widow and the Shunemite woman are, or become, mothers. They are faced with difficult situations and their over riding thought is how best to protect their children. Even in the case of Lot’s daughters they want to be sure to create a new generation of children.

As often happens in TaNach (the Jewish Bible) women are major figures in a narrative but they aren’t given names. They are the unidentified thinkers and planners. At times angels or messengers communicate with the wives, not with their husbands. Gd told Avraham to listen to Sarah’s counsel. The widow whom Elisha helped had to make sure her sons weren’t sold into servitude. The Shunemite woman – not her husband- created a place for Elisha the itinerant prophet to stay.

So- when you read text, read carefully. There are many incidents that are glossed over. Some are about nameless women, but those women were leaders in their own right.

Research Alert:    I am gathering information about exceptional Jewish women throughout history. If you have ideas or insights about outstanding female Jewish leaders please send them on to me. I’m especially looking for the names of women who lived in North Africa (Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Ethiopia etc.) the Far East, and South America. I’m also interested in women from before the common era through to the 13th and 14th Centuries.

Have a wonderful Shabbat. May we hear news of peace and tranquility throughout the world.

-Laya

 

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