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: Abraham Gets Down to Business [2020]

The Torah reading this Shabbat will be Chayei Sarah, from Genesis 23:1 – 25:18, and the reading from the prophets is 1 Kings 1:1-31, and from the Gospels – John 4:3-14. The reason that this portion is called Chayei Sarah is because Sarah the wife of Abraham dies and is buried in Hebron in the cave of Machpelah. Sarah dies at the age of 127 years old. Isaac is now 37 years old, and is still not married. She dies in Kiryat Arbah, that is just outside of Hebron where Abraham is encamped.

Abraham’s camp was too big to be in the town of Hebron. Remember from chapter 14 of Genesis that Abraham had 318 men between the ages of 20 to 50. These men, in that age group, had to have wives, and probably children. If I add a wife and one child to each of these servants of Abraham it would be 954 souls.

These are the souls that Abraham made in Haran before he came down to the land of Canaan. What does it mean to “make souls” it means to convert them, to evangelize?  Jacob on his death bed is speaking to his children and he says:

“The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil— Bless the lads. In them may my name be recalled, And the names of my father’s Abraham and Isaac, and may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth.” – Genesis 48:16

The Hebrew words used for “teeming multitudes,” could be translated as “who will be fished upon the midst of the earth.” This is the source from which Yeshua appropriated the concept of making his disciples “fishers of men.”

Abraham was an evangelist. He “made souls in Haran” and these people followed him to the land of Canaan, as the Lord commanded Abraham. They too left their homes and left their families, and their birthplace, and followed Abraham, and without a doubt they too believed in the God of Abraham and did not worship idols like their forefathers did in Haran.

That is the reason why Abraham always encamped outside the major cities of Canaan. He did the same outside of Shechem, and outside of Hebron. It seems like he encamped with his large camp and the places where he encamped were marked with a large tree that all would recognize as being his address:

“Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.” – Genesis 12:6 [NKJV]

As you can see the Terebinth of Moreh is outside of Shechem (Nablus of today).

“Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.” – Genesis 18:1 [NKJV]

The terebinths of Mamre are outside of Hebron. Until this day there is a big terebinth in Hebron that the tour guides show as the place of Abraham’s encampment in Hebron.

If you want to do business with Arabs and some Jews of Middle Eastern backgrounds, you must study the negotiation between Abraham and Ephron the Hittite, the owner of the Cave of Machpelah.

First, who are the Hittites? They are an Arian people from the center of Anatolia (middle of modern Turkey). They had a very developed material culture (archaeological architectural elements prove this, and they worked with Basalt, a hard black stone that is found in the Golan Heights.

So, like Abraham they were not natives of the land of Canaan. There are no known natives of the land of Canaan in the book of Genesis. Every one that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had business with was from somewhere else. Jerusalem had Jebusites, and there where Hittites like those in Hebron and those living to the south of the sea of Galilee, as well as Perizzites, and Girgashites, and Amorites, and Philistines.

Well, Abraham comes to look for a burial place for his wife. He is a formidable leader with a big camp, and he wants a permanent burial place for his family. So, he comes to Hebron and it is obvious that he has done his homework and knows exactly what he wants, the place, the name of the place, and the market value. He gets up from the days of mourning for his wife Sarah and goes shopping for a place of burial in Hebron.

He tells the Hittites: “I am a resident alien among you; sell me a burial site among you, that I may remove my dead for burial.” – As you can see Abraham does not “beat around the bush.”  He is direct and gets straight to business, “sell me…” The signal is that “I am not here to ask for a favor, or charity from you. I am here to do business with you.” He already knows the name of the owner of the place – Ephron.

However, the Hittite culture much like the culture of today’s natives from the land of Israel, is seen here so very clearly. “Hear us, my lord: you are the elect of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold his burial place from you for burying your dead.”

The Hittites in Hebron already know who this Abraham is, “my Lord, you are the elect of God among us.” Literally they are saying, “you are a president, a prince, among us. Any one of us would be happy to give you our burial places to bury your dead.”

They are very gracious and generous to Abraham. However, Middle Eastern generosity should not be taken lightly, or it will cost you a whole lot of money in the end. Abraham knows this well and he responds: “If it is your wish that I remove my dead for burial, you must agree to intercede for me with Ephron son of Zohar.” As you can see Abraham is prepared and knows exactly what he wants.

Never do business in the Middle East unless you have done your homework and your research, well before you start. “Let him sell me the cave of Machpelah that he owns, which is at the edge of his land. Let him sell it to me, at the full price, for a burial site in your midst.”

Abraham also states clearly that he is not in need of charity, “I am willing to pay full price. I am not interested in discounts or favors from you Hittites.” Notice that all this time Ephron is right there with the rest of the Hittites, he is a part of this whole conversation.

Now that Ephron heard Abraham, that he is willing to pay full price – Ephron pipes up!

“Now Ephron dwelt among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the sons of Heth, all who entered at the gate of his city, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field and the cave that is in it; I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead!’” – Genesis 23:10,11 [NKJV]

The key point here is what Ephron said: “I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead.” The offer to give Abraham the cave and the field for free means that the property is not really Abraham’s – he will have to be indebted to Ephron and his family forever.

If he wants to be buried with Sarah, next time it will not be a gift, it will be a totally different picture, and the price would be super high. So, Abraham carried out a clear and clean business deal, and the presence of the Hittite leaders now is only a benefit because they are witnesses to this kosher business deal.

Now Ephron has a clear path to state his price and he does:

“Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land.” – Genesis 23:12 [NKJV]

(A sign of acceptance and agreement with whatever price Ephron states. Because this is a public meeting with the Hittite people of Hebron, Ephron cannot be too greedy. He must function within the bounds of what is appropriate, or his own countrymen would look at him as a con man.)

After Abraham bowed this is what happened:

“…and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If you will give it, please hear me. I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.’ And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘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 23:13-15 [NKJV]

“…and (Abraham) spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.’ And Ephron replied to Abraham, saying to him, ‘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.’ And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants. So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.” –Genesis 23:16-19 [NKJV]

This is valuable lesson when you do business or go shopping in the Middle East and Jerusalem is not an exception. When I say in the Middle East, I do not mean that only Arab merchants deal this way, Jews from Middle Eastern countries act the same, it is the local business culture.

However, if you develop sincere friendships with merchants in Jerusalem and have that friendship tested over time, you have a totally different situation, and trust is built far beyond anything that you will see in the West.

We see in chapter 24 similar dealings between Eliezer, Abraham’s servant who went up north back to Haran to find a bride for Isaac. Something was weak in Isaac’s relationship with women, and the reason is probably because of the sexual overtures that Ishmael had with Isaac when Isaac was a young child.

“Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing. She said to Abraham, ‘Cast out that slave woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’” – Genesis 21:9,10

The word “playing” here is sexual play, and you can see this word in the story of Joseph where the wife of Potiphar the Egyptian master of Joseph, accuses Joseph of “playing” with her (Genesis 39:14). The very same Hebrew word is used – “le-tzahek” (to laugh, jest).

Now it is clear why Sarah was so insistent on having Hagar and her son Ishmael immediately kicked out. And why she feared that Ismael was intending to destroy Isaac so that he would not receive the inheritance of Abraham.

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.

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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