Saturday, November 15, 2014

From Avraham to Yitzchak

Today’s parsha Chayei Sara ends an era that is very dear to us all – the era of Avraham and Sara. We women of COUNT THE STARS have lived with Avraham and Sara for many months (Avital and I, B”H, for more than a year). Our first matriarch and patriarch are very beloved by us all.
This week, we welcome the new generation of Jewish leadership – Yitzchak and Rivka. We also see many connections to the previous parshiyot with which we are so immersed.
Avraham sent his trusted servant Eliezer to his old home to find a wife for Yitzchak, a wife with the qualities of the Abrahamic family – kindness, chesed (Rivka’s chesed to Eliezer and his camels is legendary) and a recognition of Hashem as G-d. Even Lavan (whom we know is NOT a good-guy) calls Eliezer, “Blessed of Hashem” and agrees that the shiddach between Yitzchak and Rivka “stems from Hashem.”
B”H, Rivka agrees to accompany Eliezer back to Canaan, and they travel to Yitzchak’s encampment.
“Now Yitzchak came from having gone to Beer-lachai-roi, for he dwelt in the south.” Remember that place – where Hagar met the angels for the first time. Sforno writes that this is the place where “Hagar’s prayer had once been answered, and it was there that Yitachak had gone to pray.” Of course, Hashem answered his prayers immediately, because he looked up and ta da da da (triumphant music), there was Rivka his bride.
Rasha says that Yitzchak had gone to Beer-lachai-roi to bring back Hagar to remarry his father. “This follows the tradition that Keturah, Avraham’s second wife was Hagar.”
It even states that after Avraham’s death, Hashem blessed Yitzchak his son, “and Yitzchak settled near Beer-lechai roi”. Isn’t it amazing that Yitzchak understood the holiness of the place - a place worthy of angels - and did not shy away from it, even though this was where Hagar was blessed with a son, Ishmael, “a wild-ass of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him.”
Lastly, the parsha enumerates the descendants of Ishmael. Ishmael is called “Avraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maidservant, bore to Avraham.” Yes, he was the son of his wife’s maidservant, but Avraham still looked upon him as a son. When each of Ishmael’s children is named, Rashi explains that here we see that Hashem’s blessing to Hagar at the well was fulfilled, “over his brothers he’ll dwell.” “Ishmael’s descendants would be so numerous that they would have to expand beyond their own borders into those of their brothers.”
We begin the parsha with the death of our beloved matriarch Sara at age 127, and conclude the parsha with the end of the Avraham era (even though he didn’t really die here)  when he was 175 years old. “And Avraham expired and died at a good old age, mature and content, and he was gathered to his people. His sons Yitzchak and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah….”
B”H, Avraham attained a long long life, and eventually one of contentment. Then, his sons, different as they were, and fated with totally different destinies, stood together to bury their father. In fact, Rashi said that Ishmael gave precedence to his younger brother – “and we infer that he repented.”
May Hashem bless our people always. May we have nachas from our children. May we see Hashem’s blessings to Avraham come true fully – “to your seed I will give this land.”


Photos by Bati Katz.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Abraham & Sara All Alone

One of the opening numbers in this year's Raise Your Spirits production, COUNT the STARS, is a touching duet between our beloved Patriarch and Matriarch (played here by Avital Macales and Rachel Moore), just as they are embarking upon their lives of teaching and gathering souls under the wings of G-d.
Avram and Sarai have run from their home in Ur Kasdim, and stopped in Charan. Sarai looks around at her new unfamiliar surroundings and strange new life, and shares her thoughts of their alone-ness to her husband.
It's a sweet song, but it tries to convey the difficulties of Avram and Sarai's life. Theirs was an existence of constantly starting again. That is not easy for anyone. Theirs was an existence of always being different and separate and ostracized.
It was a very solitary life. The Stone Chumash says, "Though Avraham and Sarah had many disciples (we call them "souls" in our show), they were essentially alone; they could never blend into whatever culture surrounded them." They didn't have friends to share popcorn with on a Saturday night.
We are reminded that Avam is called Avram HaIvri, not only because he came from the other side of the Euphrates, but because he stood on "one side side of a moral and spiritual divide, and the rest of the world was on the other." He rejected a world of paganism and immorality for what HaRav Soloveitchik calls an "ethical life". And even though Hashem had never said one word to Avram, Avram knew that there was an Infinite Being that ruled the world. He was willing to endure ridicule, hatred and isolation to follow the ways of the Creator. So too, throughout the centuries, Jews have drawn inspiration from our Father Avraham and strengthened themselves to endure anti-Semitism, expulsion, pogroms and all kinds of abuse in order to remain faithful to G-d.
May the Jewish nation always have the fortitude to follow the path of good and of G-d.

Behind the Scenes at COUNT THE STARS: Me'arat HaMachpelah: