[To read – How it all began?]
Cave of the Patriarchs – Genesis book – Chapter 23 – verses 1-20
Sarah lived to be 127 years old. She passed away at Kiryat Arba, that is Hebron.
[How come Kiryat Arba is Hebron as these are two different places?
The interpreters suggest Abraham tents were spread all over the desert from Hebron to Beer-Sheba, while his residence with Sarah was in Kiryat Arba where she passed away]
Abraham wasn't by Sarah's side when she passed away. He returns home to mourn her and asks the Hittites for a burial plot. "I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead."
[The Hittites existed from 30th century BC and were in their peak between the 17th century BC to 12th century BC. Their civil matters were handled by their seniors at the city's gate.
Abraham is a distinguished man, yet a minority among the Hittites, therefore he carefully weighs his words. He addresses the notable Hittites by repeatedly using the word 'among you' to soften their fear a foreign man will have hold on the land.
We should also keep in mind that besides the fact Abraham must bury his wife, God mentioned the Hittites when giving him the promise of his descendants inheriting the land. "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates–the land of the … Hittites… and Jebusites." (Genesis, Chapter 15, Verse 20)
Therefore, Abraham recalling the promise, is interested in legally purchasing a plot of land to allow his descendants to claim their rights on the land in days to come.]
The Hittites take their time considering his request then reply he can bury his dead in their tombs (without selling him a plot) while honoring him with great respect. "You are a mighty prince among us."
[Abraham, in his might, ruled south of Canaan with an army of 318 soldiers, inhabited a barren land & dug wells to bloom the wilderness. He was a brave pioneer and a self made wealthy man of the old days.]
Abraham asks the notable Hittites for their assistance to persuade Efron, son of Zohar, to sell him the cave of Machpelah [named after the area] "at the end of his field" [once again Abraham wisely softens their fear by requesting a distant cave having no use] to bury his dead. Efron arrives at the city gate to discuss Abraham's request.
[Efron might have been the ruler of Hebron]
Efron partially accepts the request by offering Abraham not only the cave but the field next to it as well, all free of charge. Abraham [not having asked for the field] diplomatically bows.
[Why did Efron include the field as well, and all of it free of charge?
Hammurabi ancient code of law stated if king had given a plot of land free of charge it must be worked, otherwise it would return to the king. Efron is wise thus he offers the field as well to add an exit clause so Abraham will not have ownership right for life. Once Abraham ceases working the land it will return to Efron.]
Wise Abraham sees through Efron's offer [without consulting his lawyer], thus he insists to purchase the plot (Cave & field). After negotiations Efron agrees and offers it for a significant amount "the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you?" ["We're both big shots, this is a small amount for a man of your league"]. Abraham buys the land with good money and buries Sarah, his wife.
[And that is folk, the first real-estate deal in Judaism and the reason we still have brave righteous Jewish people fighting to keep on living in Hebron surrounded by a Muslim Arab population.
The Machpelah cave is the oldest continuously used intact prayer structure in the world still fulfilling its original function. While the city of Hebron is under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction nowadays, the cave site is kept under Israeli jurisdiction, otherwise it would have been impossible for Jewish people to visit there.
The cave serves as a burial plot for all three fathers of the Jewish nation: Abraham, Issac & Jacob and three out of the four Mothers: Sarah, Rivka & Leah (Rachel is buried in Beit Lechem). Jewish ancient literature avows Adam & Eve, the first man & woman, were also buried there.
Both a synagogue & a mosque exist in the compound, as Abraham is sacred to the Muslims as well. He is known to be Ibrahim Khalilullah (The beloved of Allah), the first pioneer to proclaim oneness in GOD. Prophet Muhammad proclaimed to have come to renew Abraham's legacy which has been distorted by Judaism & Christianity alike.
The enclosure is open both for Jews & Muslims for prayer. Ten days a year it is open for Muslims only and ten days a year for Jews only, during each religion's holy days. One of these days is on Shabbat when 'Life of Sarah' Torah portion is read.]
A photo of the cave of the Patriarchs as taken in the beginning of the 20th century:
The servant's oath – Genesis – Chapter 24 – Verses 1-9
Abraham is an old man, knowing his days are numbered. He instructs his chief servant [Slave] to put his hand under his thigh and take an oath "by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth" that he will not get his son, Issac, a wife from the daughters of the Canaanites.
[In chapter 15 the servant is mentioned to be Eliezer "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" yet it is possible the chief servant has changed with another as years passed
Why must he take an oath by placing his hand under his master's thigh? Try doing it and you will find out the one taking the oath must bow.
Was the servant Jewish? Not only was a servant obliged to honor his master's Gods, but Abraham had his servants circumcised. Like it wasn't bad enough being a servant for life, you also get your little one chopped.]
Abraham requests the servant to go to his homeland "will go to my land and my country" [Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldess, from there he has shifted to Haran] to take a wife to Issac. The servant wonders what shall he do might the woman refuse to go to Canaan and he shall require to bring Isaac there instead. Abraham warns the servant not to dare take Isaac to his homeland and calms him that God, who had led Abraham to Canaan and promised him that his descendants will inherit it, will send an angel before the servant to lead him to the destined wife [Abraham surprisingly shares God's promise with his servant]. Abraham adds that if the woman will be unwilling to follow the servant back, then the servant will be released from his oath. "Only do not take my son back there." The servant puts his hand under Abraham's thigh and takes the oath.
Sign of compassion – Genesis – Chapter 24 – Verses 10-26
The servant takes 10 camels, loads them with all sort of goods [Dowry] and sets off to Haran, the residence of Nahor, Abraham's brother. When he reaches the city's outskirts by sunset he makes the camels kneel by the spring where the women come to draw water. He asks God to send him a sign in which he will ask one of the women to share some water with him and not only she will consent, but she will offer to give drink to his camels as well, then he will know she is the woman who should become Isaac's wife.
[Why would she offer to draw water for so many camels when the servant and his men can do the same? At sunset the women used to go out of the city to draw water, so the access to the water sources was restricted to women only.]
Before he had finished praying and Rivka approaches the well carrying a large ewer on her upper back. She is the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcha & Nahor, Abrham's brother [In short, she is the daughter of Isaac's cousin]. Rivka is beautiful and still untouched by man. She goes down to the spring to draw water. The servant rushes to her asking for some water and she is willingly doing so. When he completes water his thirst she kindly offers to draw water for his camels as well. The servant is excited and when his camels finished drinking [I guess they only sipped otherwise it would have taken two weeks] he watched her closely still wondering whether God showed him the way. He then gives Rivka a gold nose ring, adorns her with two bracelets, asks her to the identity of her family and whether they can offer a place for him to rest. Rivka shares her identity "I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor." and replies "We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night." The servant trusts now that not only did she pass the test, but she is one of Abraham's own tribe. Being dumbfounded he bows down praising God. "Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master."
Engagement – Genesis – Chapter 24 – Verses 27-60
The servant blesses God for showing him the way to Issac's destined wife.
[It strengthens the belief that Eliezer was indeed the servant, as 'Eliezer' meaning in Hebrew is "God helped".]
Rivka ran back to her home to tell her family about what had happened. Her brother, Lavan, hearing the story and seeing the jewelry heads out to meet the stranger. He invites him to stay as a guest with them and serves his men a rich meal. The servant requests permission to speak before having any food and is granted to do so.
[I would like to add that finding a proper engagement to a shepherd's daughter, such as Rivka, was a difficult task back then. Those who weren't involved with the same profession preferred to avoid mixing with shepherds' families by marriage. Why? Either due to the smell coming out of their clothes, or as to their tendency not to stay fixed in one place. Therefore, having of a rich stranger arriving to town adorning young Rivka with jewelry came as a total surprise.
In days to come in Egypt, being shepherds actually saved the Jews from integrating into the Egyptian society as King Pharaoh granted Joseph's request to have them settle & herd their stock in the Nile Delta, a remote land.
Could it be God purposely chose the Jewish matriarchs from Shepherds families to save the people of Israel? God works in mysterious ways.]
While riding to Hampi, Karnataka state in India we came across a lady shepherd. I didn't ask her to water me or my camels.
The servant reveals the story of his arrival in detail. He shares he is the servant of Abraham, a rich man to be blessed by God "He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, servants, and camels and donkeys." [He cuts God's promise from the script]. Furthermore, the servant tells them that Abraham has a wife, named Sarah who gave him a son in her old age, to whom Abraham is giving everything he owns. Abraham made him take an oath not to take a wife for his son from the daughters of the Canaanites, but to find one from his father's own clan.
[We should notice that Abraham hasn't actually asked the servant to choose the wife from among his relatives, yet the servant chose to do so. It is reasonable to assume Bethuel & Lavan realized then that Abraham is actually Bethuel's uncle who left with nothing and has never returned to claim his share of Terah's (the grandfather) will. This is probably the first time they hear he became such a rich man.]
The servant adds he expressed his concern what to do might the woman refuse to return with him, and that Abraham relieved him he would be released from his oath in such a case. He goes on telling them about the agreed sign he had asked from God to show him, by asking one of the women to give him some water, so the chosen one would not only be willing to do so, but would offer to give water to his camels as well. So did Rivka, then he he had asked her to the identity of her family and once she answered he adorned her with jewelry.
Having completed the story, the servant asks them to give their answer "Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn." Lavan & Bethuel reply it is God's will so they cannot refuse it, so they give their consent to have Rivka marry Isaac. The servant, being excited, bows down to God, gifts Rivka with jewelry and articles of clothing & gives her family costly gifts.
They celebrate by having a great feast and stay the night at Bethuel's camp. The next morning the servant asks their permission to leave, yet Lavan & his mother ask him to stay longer. The servant politely refuses requesting them not to delay him as to have God bless him in his long journey back ['Struck while the iron is hot' before they change their mind]. Lavan & his mother decide to have Rivka take the call [Before inventing the call], and she answers she is willing to set off with the servant.
[This moment set a precedent for Jewish generations to come of the bride having the right of refusal in an arranged marriage. Notice that Rivka still hasn't given her consent to the marriage itself, so she could do it when meeting Isaac]
The family said their goodbyes to Rivka [Pre Whatsapp & public transportation days, knowing they will probably never see her again] blessing her "Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies." [An ancient Jewish blessing for marriage].
[It is obvious young Rivka is an assertive self confident woman, not afraid of taking decisions by herself: She accepted the jewelry from a stranger without consulting with her family first; She invited the stranger to stay the night at their camp; She decided to leave immediately to meet Issac, in contrast to her mother and brother's will; This strong character to make risky decisions saved the Jewish people years later when Rivka helped her young son, Jacob, to fool old Isaac to give him, and not his elder brother, Esau, the promise of the land.]
Love is in the air – Genesis – Chapter 24 – Verses 61-67
Rivka and her girls join the servant, mount their camels and follow his convoy. Isaac, while meditating in the field at Beer Lahai Roi looks up and sees a caravan of camels approaching.
[Some researches believe 'Beer Lahai Roi' is 'Ein Ovdat', a desert inn for those wandering through the desert. In Hebrew 'Beer Lahai Roi' is used to express 'A source of life'.]
When Rivka sees Isaac she leans down asking the servant who this man is and he replies he is his master. Hearing so she covers her face in a veil. The servant tells Isaac all that had happened in Haran. Isaac takes Rivka to his mother's tent "So she became his wife, and he loved her;" dearly. Isaac is comforted by her after the loss of his mother, Sarah. [Rivka takes her place at the Jewish matriarch dynasty.]
Abraham & Ishmael – Genesis – Chapter 25 – Verses 1-18
Abraham doesn't rest long and takes a new wife named Keturah [Some researchers believe this is Hagar] who bears him six sons. Abraham bequeaths all of his lands and possessions to Isaac while sending his younger children east after gifting them with goods. Abraham lived to the ripe old age of 175 years; Isaac & Ishmael bury him in the Machpelah cave in Hebron. [The Torah mentions Isaac before Ishmael, suggesting Ishmael became newly religious. Muslims will not like this interpretation.]
The Torah then tells the happenings of Ishmael, having twelve sons [As against the Twelve sons of Israel]. He died at the age of 137.
How come this portion is called 'Life of Sarah' when her life ended on the first verse? The fruits of our life have been sown by our past actions. Such was the life of Sarah. Thank you mother