Parashat Chayei Sarah: Learning to converse

This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, is unique in that it focuses almost exclusively on lengthy dialogues that seem banal at first glance. At the beginning of the parsha, the narrative tells of the death of our matriarch Sarah and Abraham’s desire to bury her in a burial cave in the Hebron fields; that same cave where he himself, along with Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah were also to be buried. To this day, Jews visit the tombs of the patriarchs in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Abraham held a discussion about the purchase of the field with the Hittites then living in Hebron, and with Ephron, the owner of the desired cave. This discussion is cited in the parsha in its entirety.

Later, the parsha describes Abraham’s request from his servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for his son, Isaac, in Abraham’s own land. Eliezer travels to Aram-naharaim to fulfill his master’s request, and the parsha describes in great detail: Eliezer’s prayer to God for his journey to be successful and his search for Isaac’s cousin Rebecca suitable for Isaac. The parsha then describes in detail the conversations Eliezer had with Rebecca and her family.

Our sages did not overlook this and made the following surprising pronouncement:

Rabbi Acha said: The ordinary conversation of the servants of the patriarchs is more dear to the Omnipresent than the Torah of their children, because the section dealing with Eliezer is repeated in the Torah, whereas many foundations of the Torah were given only to through allusions. – [Genesis Rabbah 60:8] (Rashi, Genesis 24:42)

The sages insist that the Torah went into great detail regarding the conversations of Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, while some of the more important commandments of the Torah are merely suggestive. They see this as a sign that the conversations of the servants of the patriarchs are higher and more meritorious than these commandments.
How can it be?

Jewish worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron (credit: REUTERS)

Many of us are used to thinking that the more an act we do is contrasted with our daily lives, and the more it involves sacrifice and devotion, the holier it is and the more God is satisfied with it. But our sages emphasize that what we learn from the Torah is that all the divine commandments given in the Torah are but a map of a proper and grounded life, a life that expresses the highest holiness. Our holy ancestors who lit a path in a darkened world teach us how to live a proper life, full of holiness in every act we perform. Of course, this does not negate the necessary commitment we must have to the commandments of the Torah, divine tools to function in the world and the basis of the covenant between the Jewish nation and its God.

Every word and every sentence in the dialogues that appear in the parsha are there to teach us how to operate in a holy way: how to buy land in a fair, honest and respectful way; what should we focus on when looking for a partner; how we should behave with family members; how we should pray when we feel we need help from above; and much more. Inspired by parsha, we have the tools to embrace characteristics of responsibility, courage, humility, and joie de vivre.

Three times a day, we repeat in the first blessing of the amide prayer: “Who remembers the acts of devotion of parents, and who, with love, will bring a redeemer to their children’s children for his name’s sake.”

With these words, we declare that complete redemption will come on the merit of the holy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose life stories we read in these weekly Torah portions. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook saw another layer of these words. Redemption will not only come on the merit of the parents, but it will carry their conversations and their way of life on its wings to shed the light of God in every sphere of life. ■

The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Places.

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