Chayei Sarah is a monumental Torah portion in the Book of Genesis (23:1-25:18) that establishes Hevron as one of our people’s holiest cities in the land of Israel and tells the story of the betrothal of Isaac and Rebekah. Thus, for the first time in Jewish history we witness the passing of the baton of history from one generation to the next.
We, the current generation, however, have yet to fulfill our Jewish destiny. Hevron today is a hot spot of Palestinian and Jewish rage, of extremism and violence, of polarization and hate. Until there is peace (shalom) between the tribes of Israel and shalom/salem (not hudna – i.e. “quiet”) between Israel and the Palestinians, we will not have fulfilled our raison d’etre as a people to be rod’fei shalom, pursuers of peace.
The current violence cannot be the way forward, nor can suspicion, distrust and hatred of the “other” define the character of our people’s and the Palestinian people’s hearts and souls.
I offer a poetic midrash on Isaac’s and Rebekah’s encounter leading to their marriage. I love this story because their meeting is pure and sweet, and it suggests a paradigm of what is possible not only between individuals, but between the tribes that comprise the Jewish people today (e.g. Haredi, Orthodox, Mizrachi, Ashkenazi, Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, secular, atheist, liberal and right-wing Zionists, American, Israeli, European, Latin, etc.), and the peoples of the Middle East who know far too much polarization, suspicion, distrust, and hatred of each other.
A Weeping Isaac Alone in the Field
To be alone amidst shifting wheat / And rocks and sun / Beneath stirred-up clouds / And singing angels / Audible only by the wind.
I’ve secluded myself / As my father did / When he went out / Alone leaving all he knew / For a place he’d never been / That God would show him.
I can do nothing else / Because Father broke my heart / And crushed my soul / When he betrayed me / By stealing me away one morning / Before my mother awoke / And nearly offered me to his God.
When my mother learned / Her soul passed from the world.
O how she loved me! / And filled me up / With laughter, love and tears.
Bereft now / I’m desolate in this world / And this field.
O Compassionate One – Do You hear me / From this arid place / Filled with snakes and beasts, hatred and vengeance?
I sit here needing YOU.
As if in response, / Suddenly from afar / Appears a caravan / Of people and camels, / Led by Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, / With a young girl.
Isaac, burdened by grief / Neither looks nor sees.
He sits still / Lasuach basadeh / Meditating / And weeping / Beneath the afternoon sun / And swirling clouds / And singing angels / Whom he cannot hear.
Rebekah asks: / ‘Who is that man crying alone in the field?’
Eliezer says: / ‘He is my master Isaac, / Your intended one, / Whose seed you will carry / Into the future.’
“Vatipol min hagamal – And she fell from her camel” / Shocked and afraid / Onto the hard ground / Yearning.
She veiled her face / Bowed her head / And Rebekah and Isaac entered / Sarah’s tent, / And she comforted him.