In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.

Joseph Shulam: Price Negotiation in the Middle East [2017]

This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18). There are some very significant events in this portion of the Torah, and of course the most important one is the passing of Sarah.

Abraham went to Hebron to buy a burial cave for the burial of his wife Sarah. The event of this land and cave for burial is very important for understanding the Middle East even today.

The way that Ephron the Hittite negotiated with Abraham is a lesson for anyone doing business in the Middle East. The Middle Eastern way is first to be very gracious and magnanimous, and even offer the “product” for free, because of supposed friendship. Ephron says:

“My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.” – Genesis 23:15 [NKJV]

First, Ephron offers Abraham to bury his wife in the Cave of Machpela for free. Second, Abraham understands that to get this major “gift” of the cave, to bury his wife Sarah for free, will turn out to be the most expensive exorbitant price. So, Abraham refused to get a gift from the “local” inhabitants in Hebron.

Third, Ephron now, without shame, announces the price of 400 shekels of silver. This is no little price in those days, in fact, it was a very exorbitant price.

However, Ephron, by being “very generous” and gallant to Abraham around his fellow Hittite citizens of Hebron, closes the option to haggle and argue about the price. Abraham could not now act less gallant or cheap to haggle with Ephron.

Today, in dealing with the Arab market in the Old City of Jerusalem, it would not be unusual to have a very similar exchange with the local merchants. You enter into the shop. First, you are offered coffee or tea or a soft drink. You are received with warm hospitality into the shop.

After you get the coffee or tea or soft drink, there is very nice conversation about how much the Arab merchant appreciates Americans. Next, you are invited to look around the shop and the announcement is made how good the products are and how fair the price is.

Now you start feeling a sense of obligation because of the drink and the gracious reception. Next you look at something and you like it. The Arab merchant comes to you and says, “I will make a special price just for you!”

It is not really that the Arab merchant is making a special price just for you. In fact, the merchant now has prepared you to pay whatever he suggests. You now feel that you are disarmed from arguing and from haggling over the price. So, you pay up whatever special price was engineered just for you.

Netivyah | Chayei Sarah | Illustration of Eliezer and Rebecca from an illustrated bible from 1991, by Adolf Hult (1869-1943)

Illustration of Eliezer and Rebecca from an illustrated bible from 1991, by Adolf Hult (1869-1943)

The other important story in this portion of the Torah is Abraham sending Eliezer, his servant, to find a wife for Isaac, his son. The test that Eliezer is devising for the young lady that he has to bring to Isaac is the following:

“Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.” – Genesis 24:14 [NKJV]

What did Eliezer want to examine in the young lady?

  1. Is she hospitable?
  2. Is she self-confident?
  3. Does she think ahead and examine the situation with foresight?
  4. Does she care about the animals, and not only for the human beings?
  5. Is she willing to work extra to show her generosity, and not ask for money or reward for doing the extra work for a stranger?
  6. Does the young lady have enough respect for her family not to make such important decisions on her own, but take the issue before her family? And she was sure enough of her status in the family that she was not shy or fearful to bring an old stranger home to meet her family.

These are some very important principles for anyone who has children and daughters that are ready for marriage, or growing up to become young ladies or young men.

Joseph Shulam: Sarah, the Most Liberated Woman [2016]

This week the reading in the synagogues is called “Chayei Sarah”, the “Life of Sarah”, Genesis 23-25:18. It is the story of Sarah’s death and burial in the Cave of Machpela in Hebron.

Sarah stands out from every other woman in the Bible. She is a woman most involved in every aspect of her husband’s life and activity.

There is not one story in the life of Abraham that Sarah was not somehow involved in, and influenced the outcome of, every one of the events in Abraham’s life. She was really the most liberated woman, who was as important to the life and narrative of her husband Abraham as much, or even more, than anyone else in his life.

Read about the purchase of the cave of Machpela from Ephron the Hittite in Hebron. When you read the book of Genesis, please notice how involved Sarah is in every episode of Abraham’s life.

Muriel Stern: Did Sarah Die Knowing God’s Goodness? [2018]

This week’s Torah portion begins with the death of Sarah at the age of 127. It tells the story of how Abraham bought the family burial cave in Hebron. There is a faithful servant who seeks the guiding of his master’s God and his prayer does not go unanswered. We learn that Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death by his wife Rebecca. Abraham remarried and has more children and dies at age of 175 years. He is buried by his 2 eldest sons, Ishmael & Isaac. We read about the descendants of Ishmael and learn that he died at the age of 137 years.

What stood out to me was the very beginning of this portion. We read in Genesis 23:1: “Sarah lived….” And boy, did she live some kind of life!

Like Abraham she was born in Ur of the Chaldeans. Actually she and Abraham were related by blood, they both had the same father. While strange for us, it was something very common for that time. After a while the family started out on a journey to Canaan, but settled on the way, in Harran. Abram & Sarai, as they were called than were not able to conceive children.

After her father passes away the Lord spoke to her husband and makes him some amazing promises. Her husband packs up and they set out on a journey into an unfamiliar land. It is this land that the Lord has promised to Abram and his descendants. A famine makes them leave the land that was promised and takes them to Egypt. Upon entering Egypt her husband asks her to pretend that she is his sister instead of his wife. Not a total lie as she is his half sister. The Egyptians notice her, and she ends up on Pharaoh’s harem. The Lord interferes on her behalf, striking the Pharaoh and his household with serious disease and Sarai is sent back to Abram. We learn nothing about how Sarai felt about all this, other then that she trusted her husband and agreed to not tell them that she was actually his wife.

An important part of the promise of the Lord was that He’d make Abram into a great nation. But Sarai & Abram remain childless. This is when Sarai comes up with a solution. They can use her slave as a surrogate. The slave, Hagar, gets pregnant. And while this is exactly what they were hoping for, it seems to break something in Sarai. While before all this it could have been either one of them who was the reason they could not conceive, now it is clear that it is her. To add insult to injury, Hagar mocks her. She complains to her husband, who tells her to do whatever she wants. And in her pain Sarai strikes back. Hagar runs away, comes back and gives birth to a son who is called Ishmael.

Thirteen year later the Lord speaks to Abram again and tells him he will have a child with Sarai. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham and Sarai will be called Sarah. Abraham has a hard time believing this as he is 100 years old and Sarah is 90 years old, way past the age of childbearing. Abraham obeys the Lord’s command and all the males in his household are circumcised. Three men visit Abraham and repeat the promise of a child born to them. Sarah laughs. When she is called out on her lack of faith she lies.

The family moves again and once again Abraham asks of Sarah to say she is his sister. Abimelech, king of Gerar takes her. The Lord intervenes again on Sarah behalf and appears in a dream to Abimelech. Sarah is returned to her family. Her husband is given gifts & money to cover any offence against her. Also this time we learn nothing about how she felt about this experience.

The next part of the story is one of great joy. Sarah becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby boy. He is circumcised on the eight day and named Isaac. Sarah says: “God has brought me laughter.”

Once again tension rises between Hagar & Sarah. And while it distressed Abraham greatly he sends Hagar & Ishmael away. Hagar & Ishmael settled in the Desert of Param. Abraham & Sarah, with their son Isaac settle in Beersheva and stay there for a long time.

The last part of Sarah’s story, the one right before we learn of her death, is the testing of Abraham. The Lord asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, the one who was promised, the one they had to wait for for so many years. And Abraham obeys.

We know how the story ends, how the Lord provided a ram at the very last minute and Isaac’s life was spared. But the timeline in scripture does not tell us if the news reached Sarah before or after her death. While it says of Abraham that he died at a good old age, no such thing is said of Sarah.

Did she die believing that her husband sacrificed her son or did she die knowing the Lord intervened? Did she die in peace, knowing that the child that had brought her laughter lived or did she die not understanding how this could fit in the Lord’s plan? Did she die of a broken heart? Did she feel betrayed? Or did she die knowing that no matter what the promises of the Lord stand?

We don’t know.

But it is these questions that stayed with me as I read this week’s portion. We read about the end of the life of the mother of all believers. Her faith inspires me. The trust & honor she gives her husband is something to strive for. Her creativity in finding solutions is admirable. It is easy to forget that she was a real person with feelings & emotions just like us, even though we see a glimpse of this in her interactions with Hagar. And it is in those parts of the story that I find her relatable. She is real. She is a woman who was promised a child and had to wait years. She finally got the son she was promised and now the Lord was taking him away.

I hope Sarah died peacefully, knowing deep within her heart that the Lord is good. And I pray that even when it all seems hopeless & impossible at times, I too can have that same deep faith in the Lord just as she had.

Yehuda Bachana: Eliezer’s Impossible Test [2017]

Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.

This week we will talk about the weekly Torah portion, Parashat Chayei Sarah.

The main subject I want to talk about is the assignment that Abraham gives to Eliezer – to find a suitable wife for Isaac. 

There is a winning combination here between Divine Providence and human wisdom. I want to focus on this.

As an introduction to this teaching, I would like to emphasize that our world is very complicated, we are complicated people. God knows exactly what kind of world He has put us in, and so He created us with common sense and reason. God created us with a good and healthy mind, with the intent that we would use it! And the combination of good sense and Divine Providence brings success and blessing.

Sometimes we have no choice, and we are completely dependent on God, other times we can use the wisdom that God has given us.

Eliezer’s Impossible Test

In chapter 24, Abraham has Eliezer swear that he will find Isaac a good wife. On one hand, there is no problem to find a family willing to give away it’s daughter to a person of means such as Abraham’s successor. (Note that Eliezer takes ten camels loaded with all kinds of good things.)

But on the other hand, a family who cares for it’s daughter’s well-being would not be happy to send her off to a faraway place, since the family will not be able to stand by her side when necessary.

This testimony can be seen in Laban’s parting words to Jacob:

“If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.” – Genesis 31:50 [NIV]

Laban is concerned that when Jacob will be in a different country with his wives – Laban’s daughters – he will not care to treat them well.

We must understand that this is the concern of every family. It’s difficult to send your daughter off to a faraway country without the possibility of supporting her. This means that it will be difficult for Eliezer to find the right wife for Isaac, and persuade the family to send her far off.

Eliezer understood the weight of responsibility and the difficulty of his assignment, and he asks Abraham:

The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?” – Genesis 24:5 [NIV]

Abraham is opposed to the possibility of Isaac’s “emigration”:

“If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.” – Genesis 24:8 [NIV]

Abraham says that if the woman does not want to come to Canaan , then Eliezer is free from the oath, and he can find a local bride. The most important thing is that Isaac will not leave the Promised Land.

Eliezer understands that he has two jobs: the first one is to find a suitable wife for Isaac, and the second one is to convince her and her family to agree to marry a stranger who lives far away.

This story works on two planes – a spiritual one and an earthly one. Spiritual: to find a suitable wife. Earthly: to convince her family to send her, on her own, to a distant land to marry a stranger.

I’ll say it again: a family that is concerned about a daughter’s well-being will not be happy to send her off to a husband from far away – because the family could not stand by her side if necessary.

Eliezer had three options:

  • At best, find a respectable family that is in dire financial straits, and is willing to send their daughter to a distant land in order to give her a chance for a better life.
  • Another possibility is to find a greedy family that will be dazzled by Abraham’s great wealth, and will ignore any possible distress for the daughter (this is what actually happened).
  • And the worst option would be to find a family that would be happy to get rid of their problematic daughter, because of her behavior or because her chances of getting married locally were slim to none.

I am sure that these questions bothered Eliezer, and in the end Eliezer decided that only God could find the right girl under these conditions. The problem is how to ascertain what is God’s choice when there is no explicit statement on the matter.

To ensure that God’s guidance is in play here, Eliezer comes up with an impossible test, with no real chance of working to find a suitable wife for Isaac:  

“May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” – Genesis 24:14 [NIV]

Why would this be an impossible test?

First, she was a good girl from a good family. Good girls don’t go to draw water. There are slaves for this kind of thing, or they could use the barter system – they could trade a garment or a fabric in exchange for water.

Pumping and hauling water is very hard work, and unsuitable for a girl. A clay jar full of water on a girl’s shoulder is perhaps a romantic painting, but in reality it’s a hard job.

Second, the girl must approach a man. And before her there’s a strange man asking to drink water from her jar. A good girl would logically not talk with strangers, and she would not approach a man as to let him drink from her jar, as Eliezer spoke:

“Please give me a little water from your jar.” – Genesis 24:17b [NIV]

And the final demand of Eliezer’s test – that the girl willingly offered to water ten camels who had just finished a long journey, borders on absurdity. No girl from a good home would offer or initiate such hard labor. Perhaps a man of great strength would offer this option in return for decent wages, but not a girl.

How much water can a camel drink after a journey? The answer may surprise you – a camel can drink over 50 liters (13 gallons) in ten minutes. In other words, Eliezer is expecting this girl to volunteer to draw half a ton of water for his ten camels.

Even after this miracle occurs, it is written:

Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful. – Genesis 24:21 [NIV]

Why does Eliezer watch her closely? This girl fulfilled every condition he set…

Even after we receive a sign from God, it is necessary to make sure it is indeed from God. Eliezer still does not know if she is available for marriage, or if she’s engaged, or a slave girl, etc. Therefore he asks her who her father is and if her father has any place for lodging. The girl can answer this question if she indeed still lives in her father’s house and is a daughter and not a slave.

There are many who were tested in the Bible, such as Abraham, Job – even Yeshua.

In Matthew 4, Satan asks a hungry Yeshua to turn stones into bread, he puts Him above the temple and asks Him to jump as a test to the angels, Satan then shows the world to Yeshua and offers the kingdoms of the world in exchange for His bowing before him.

Yeshua meets all trials and tests and teaches us important lessons during the testing, with the climax being:

Yeshua said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” – Matthew 4:10 [NIV] (amended)

Divine Providence in Cooperation With Human Wisdom 

Back to Eliezer – after the aforementioned test and the resulting answer, he makes use of his intelligence. Now we can see that Eliezer is clever. He begins by giving gifts to the girl. (Up until now we call her “girl”, but we know that this is “Rebekah”.)

…the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. – Genesis 24:22b [NIV]

Even before Eliezer introduces himself, he gives the girl lavish jewelry in order to create a comfortable atmosphere for conversation.

Eliezer figured the girl would run home and tell her family what had happened. Indeed it is written:

The young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things. – Genesis 24:28 [NIV]

And as Eliezer figured, money did the job. Laban sees the gold nose ring and the gold bracelets, and he invites Eliezer over to the house.

Now we get to Eliezer’s speech at Rebekah’s father’s house: Look at Eliezer, he’s smart and he knows exactly what to say. First, Eliezer emphasizes that his master Abraham is rich:

So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. – Genesis 24:34,35 [NIV]

Eliezer describes in detail that Abraham is one of the richest men, and he goes on to say:

My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. – Genesis 24:36 [NIV]

This means that Sarah gave birth to an only child, and there will be no more heirs. Abraham has already given all he has as an inheritance to Isaac. After Eliezer ended the part indicating the great wealth of Isaac and his future wife, he turns to talk about his assignment, and the test that he set. He points to the fact that Abraham wanted a wife for Isaac from his own family:

“…if, when you go to my clan, they refuse to give her to you—then you will be released from my oath.” – Genesis 24:41 [NIV]

Eliezer is saying that they’re the first option, he is under an oath to go to their home first. But if they’re not interested, he’s free from the oath.

Eliezer ends his speech with this statement:

“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.” – Genesis 24:49 [NIV]

Eliezer’s speech is clever. He presents great wealth, alongside a clear threat: “Either you show kindness and faithfulness and send your daughter, or I’m free to go.”

It is clear to us that this marriage was ordained by God, but Eliezer understood that marriage requires the consent of Rebekah’s family. And as for every earthly family, economics is a top priority. So Eliezer acted and spoke accordingly, and like in many other places in the Torah, God’s help works in cooperation with human effort and wisdom.

In Conclusion

The big question I’m left with after this story is: how can I know what God’s will is without having an explicit statement? And where do I stand in relation to Eliezer’s test? Does this test apply to me today as well?

Take for example the test of Gideon’s fleece – where Gideon asked to lay a fleece out where it would be dry while everything else around it would be wet, and vice versa, where the fleece would be wet and everything else around it would be dry.

Surprisingly, we find other similar tests in the Bible and the New Testament. Consider this verse:

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. – Proverbs 16:33 [NIV]

The purpose of this is to clarify God’s will. By casting lots to find out, for example, the culprit of a specific crime, or if a person is worthy of an important public office.

I will note a few instances of casting lots in Scripture:

  • Saul casts lots and finds out that his son Jonathan sinned by inadvertently breaking the vow of fasting.
  • The sailors in the book of Jonah cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.
  • Joshua casts lots and finds that Achan brought disaster upon Israel by violating God’s covenant not to take devoted things.
  • The division of the land into tribes and regions was done by casting lots.
  • When an apostle was chosen after the death of Judas, he was selected by casting lots.
  • By casting lots, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was chosen to sacrifice incense in the temple, as a priest.

Today, the vast majority of the Sages of Israel claim that we can’t rely on casting lots, or similar signs and tests, in matters of injustice. I think so too.

And yet, I believe that God indeed puts signs before us even today.

In conclusion From Eliezer’s test, and his wise conduct after the test, I am clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that God works in cooperation with our human effort and wisdom.

Shabbat Shalom

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