Gathering Sources: Chayei Sarah

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Chayei Sarah — maybe also spelled Chayei or Hayye Sarah — Genesis 23:1-25:18. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.” Chayei Sarah is read in the Diaspora this week, from minchah on 11/16 through Shabbat, 11/23.

Great Sources: Dasher, Delayer, Displayer, and Doer

Language and Translation: Mourning and Wailing

Something to Notice: The mother’s house

A Path to Follow: Meetings at a Well

See also:
Chayei Sarah, Shabbat, and Transgender Remembrance Day

Ishmael, Isaac, and a Reunion of Cousins

Publishing of these Gathering Sources posts was interrupted by the fall holidays and did not get back on track. Apologies for any inconvenience or confusion. Missing posts coming ASAP.

Chayei Sarah, Shabbat and Transgender Remembrance

Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18), begins:

וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים–שְׁנֵי, חַיֵּי שָׂרָה
And the life of Sarah was a hundred years and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.

We have not heard from Sarah since Chapter 21, when she asked Abraham to send out the maid-servant Hagar and her child, Ishmael, born to Abraham. Midrash offers many suggestions for what happened to Sarah between that moment and her death, reported here. Avivah Zornberg suggests that Sarah died from an experience of “the reversibility of joy,” in relation to the Akedah [binding of Isaac]. (Genesis: The Beginning of Desire, [JPS, 1995], p. 399)

Without short-changing what Zornberg has to say about Sarah’s life and death — which I recommend everyone read — I thought this single idea of death by “reversibility of joy” worth considering…especially as we enter Shabbat tonight, with Transgender Remembrance Day ahead of us and weeks of turmoil behind us.
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Chayei Sarah: Great Source(s)

Students of Torah know that the text rarely spends time describing the emotional state of its characters. In fact, this is the only Torah portion that shares details of mourning for a woman. Abraham’s tears for his wife here are quite unexpected, and in order to understand their power, we have to understand their context.

Though I usually resent any broad generalizations that all men behave in a certain manner, it does seem clear that when they suffer a death, a strong majority of men are less comfortable expressing their feelings and more comfortable springing into action. We are good at making the arrangements, at picking people up at the airport. We show our love less by heartfelt expression than by demonstrable deeds.Continue Reading

Chayei Sarah: A Path to Follow

In Genesis/Breishit 24:11-27 Eliezer first encounters Rebekah at a well, and her betrothal to Isaac ensues. Many commentators note that Jacob (Genesis/Breishit 29:4-20) and Moses (Shemot/Exodus 2:15-21) also meet their brides at a well. Robert Alter discusses this “type-scene” briefly in his Five Books of Moses* and extensively in The Art of Biblical Narrative.*
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