Parashah #5: Chai Sarah (Sarah’s life) B’resheit (Genesis) 23:1-25:18

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #5 Chai Sarah (Sarah’s life) B’resheit (Genesis) 23:1-25:18
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 1:1-31
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 8:19-2; 27:3-10

In the context of understanding the difference between intellectual knowing and knowing through experience, the focus of this teaching on the parashah centers on the biblical perspective of coping with death described in the narrative of Abraham and Sarah. Hopefully, those who fear death will come to understand that death for the believer is not something to be feared. For the true believer, death is merely a shedding of our physical, sinful shell, and a liberation of our soul back to YHVH/Yahshua, our Creator, to be transformed into a glorified body at the Resurrection of believers. After all, there is no further need of a physical body to serve G-d on earth, so we break out of the chrysalis of humanity and our soul returns to G-d. Our focus text is 23:1-25:18.
During our lifetimes, we will be faced with the death of loved ones. When many of us were young, we may have thought of death as something that happened to “old people” and it seemed that we were immune. Unfortunately, children during the Holocaust became all too aware of the brutality of man and the indiscriminate killing of their families if even they survived to remember such atrocities. Today children the world over are exposed to death of friends and loved ones at all ages much sooner and more frequently due to the increase of disease, famine, plagues, and terrorism as the result of a general disregard for G-d’s commands, all prophesied because mankind has turned away from G-d and no longer sees Him as relevant in any context. Death does not discriminate; it is an equal opportunity event that will affect everyone save those who will be raptured and perhaps those who will be sealed to serve G-d through the Great Tribulation.
Fortunately, G-d knows how sad it is to lose a loved one; even to One who died without sin, making a way for those who are called by Him to become reconciled to G-d and begin the life-journey toward salvation. But G-d as the Father knew the physical death of the physical manifestation of Himself as Yahshua, was only temporary. Studying and internalizing Abraham’s experience and subsequent actions at the death of his beloved Sarah can help us to address the reality of death in a way consistent with people who trust in G-d; that nothing happens without His knowledge and that all things work together for the good for those who love G-d and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
We can observe five behaviors that Abraham demonstrated that facilitated coping with such a loss:
1. He expressed sorrow and grief; he wept and mourned (v. 1-2). Note that he did not become consumed with grief to the point of being incapacitated and ineffective as a servant of G-d. Neither did he suppress his grief and descend into a state of denial that can eat away at a person unto death.
2. He was responsible; he arose and moved on (v.3). He understood there was more work to do; a mission not complete, and he continued to serve his G-d.
3. He confessed his faith. He was a stranger and sojourner on earth whose hope was for a permanent home in Canaan and in heaven (Heb. 11:8-10) (v.4).
4. He was a strong testimony to the power of G-d as he made all the funeral arrangements (v. 5-18). This is a difficult and life-changing experience. Abraham demonstrated strength that can only come from G-d as he prepared for and completed the burial process.
5. Abraham buried his loved one in faith and love (v. 19-20).
Though the focus of this teaching is to learn a new way of perceiving death by examining Abraham’s response to Sarah’s death, we need to examine Sarah’s life in more detail; who she was, how she affected Abraham’s life, and what her loss cost him. Learning more about Sarah and her relationship with Abraham will help us to understand the depth of Abraham’s loss.
1. Sarah had willingly followed her husband Abraham in his call from YHVH.
2. She had willingly left home, family, and friends; all she had in order to follow her husband.
3. She willingly traveled with Abraham as he sought to follow and obey the one true G-d; a concept much different that the society of idol-worshippers from which she and Abraham had come.
4. She had been steadfast through all their years together eventually believing YHVH’s promise of a child although she initially laughed at the thought.
5. She was renamed “princess” (Sarah) by G-d, changing her name from Sarai to Sarah (Gen. 17:15).
6. The story of her life provides an excellent illustration of YHVH’s grace.
7. She obeyed Abraham’s instructions to tell great leaders of the time that she was Abraham’s sister in order to preserve Abraham’s life.
8. She provides a dynamic example for believing wives to follow (1 Pet. 3:1-6).
9. She is listed in the great Hall of Faith as one of the great believers of faith (Heb. 11:11).
10. She is the only woman whose age and death are given in Scripture.
Again, it is important to note that although Abraham expressed his sorrow, mourned and wept for his dear Sarah, he did not allow his grief to overtake and incapacitate him from continuing is service to G-d. In verse 3 he stood up and walked away from the side of his dead wife. He walked away on his own; he did not require assistance. Yes, the deep pain and sorrow of losing a loved one pierced his heart and cut him to the bone. However, after he wept, he got up and went about his duties. How could he continue on so quickly? The answer is that he knew that Sarah had followed the counsel of G-d throughout her life. Therefore, Abraham was confident in knowing that Adonai had taken her to glory. As an Old Testament believer, Sarah would have gone into Sheol until Yahshua descended there to preach to the Old Testament saints who would have ascended with Him as the first fruits. Psalm 73:24 informs us that YHVH “will guide us with His counsel and afterward receive us to glory.”
In Hebrews 11:13-14,16 we read and may understand that like Sarah, all true believers who die in faith are assured of this solemn promise: “ having not rejected the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they [you and I] were [and are] strangers and pilgrims on the earth who declare plainly that we seek and desire a better country; that is an heavenly; wherefore YHVH is not ashamed to be called their [yours and mine] G-d; for He (YHVH) hath prepared for them [you and me] a city.
Simply written, Abraham did exactly what the Bible teaches. He did not sorrow like others sorrow… that have no hope… for Abraham believed (actively) G-d and His promises. If we trust (active) as Abraham trusted with the exception of the encounters with Pharaoh/Abimelech, we as believers know that YHVH has prepared a place for us and our loved ones that will last eternally. In the B’rit Chadasha we are again reminded: “Don’t let yourselves be disturbed. Trust in G-d and trust in me. In my Father’s house are many places to live. If there weren’t, I would have told you; because I am going there to prepare a place for you. Since I am going and preparing a place for you, I will return to take you with me; so that where I am, you may be also. Furthermore, you know where I am going; and you know the way there”(John 14:1-3). This statement is followed by a profound truth that again identifies Yahshua as G-d “I AM the Way-and the truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me. Because you have known me, you will also know my Father; from now on, you do know him-in fact, you have seen him” (Gen. 16:6-7).
As believers we have hope:
1. of being with our Creator immediately when we die (2 Cor. 5:8)
2. of Adonai’s return and of being united with our loved ones (1 Thess. 4:13-18)
3. of a better life in the next world (Ph. 1:23)
4. of being with the Messiah and having a home and a mansion of glory made by YHVH himself (John 14:2-3:2 Cor. 5:1; Heb. 11:10).
5. of receiving a new and perfect body (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
6. of appearing in glory (1 Pet. 5:4)
7. of having pain, sorrow, and tears wiped away forever (Rev. 21:4)
8. of receiving treasures (Matt. 6:20).
9. of an eternal inheritance (1 Pet. 1:3-4; Tit. 3:7; Rom. 8:16-17)
10. of seeing the heavens remade into a new and perfect heaven and earth (2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 21:1; Is. 65:17; Is. 66:22).
Believers are pilgrims and sojourners on Earth who can demonstrate our true colors of faith at the passing of a loved one by expressing our trust that our beloved departed(if he/she loved G-d), has now gone on to the next phase of a believer’s life. That we are but seeing them off on the journey that culminates with their arrival at the gates of Heaven where someday we too might join them and experience the joy and happiness of true believers is our anticipated hope.
We can also express our trust in YHVH by bearing witness to G-d’s strength and peace as we arrange for the disposition of our loved one, just as Abraham did with Sarah. To many, this may seem unimportant in the expression of faith. Nevertheless, we must be cognizant that Scripture takes 14 verses to address this subject, indicating there is something important for us to learn.
The lesson is clear and strong; the Promised Land of heaven is worth any price:
1. Abraham did not argue over the high price of the land.
2. Abraham humbly and quietly paid the price and demonstrated that he was not living for this earth and its money. He had a higher calling. He loved the things that concerned his family and his G-d more than the things of this earth.
3. Abraham also demonstrated a true believer’s testimony in this transaction. First, he showed proper prudence in business affairs and the purchase was secured before many witnesses.
The question of how we can cope with the death of a loved one is answered by burying our loved ones in faith and love; by believing the promises of YHVH Elohim and moving on. By recognizing that our life on earth is a temporary situation as we journey on towards our permanent home, made by G-d, just for us (John 14:1-3).
Let us carefully read, study, and internalize these truths that we may all exhibit the faith and trust in G-d as Abraham demonstrated with the loss of his Sarah. To G-d be the glory forever and ever.
Abraham understood as a foreigner in the land, he did not have the right to own land without purchasing it and obtaining the permission of the community. He makes a point to ask that the transaction occur in front of the Hittites to prevent any later argument that the cave was not purchased legitimately.
In Gen. 23:10-17 we learn about Efron and his hidden agenda. At face value Efron offers to give Abraham the cave and the field. He makes a point to say he is giving it to Abraham twice in front of the people. Abraham sees through the facade, bows toward the people and beseeches Efron to sell the land to him. Efron’s true colors begin to show through as he makes a backhanded comment about the worth of the land at 400 shekels (Gen. 23:15). Efron’s true character is reflected in the Hebrew. Throughout the chapter, Ephron’s name is spelled with a vav. However, in Chapter 16 where the money changed hands and the sale was consummated, the vav is omitted. Thereby the Torah implies that his status was diminished in the incongruity of his words with his thoughts and character. We need to understand the real worth of land at that time to understand how Abraham was able to discern Efron’s agenda. Abraham did not want a gift lest the people hold it over his head at a later time. This is a valuable lesson for today. If we want something, buy it outright, get and keep the receipt, and that will usually suffice as proof of purchase. Abraham wanted to own the land free and clear. Efron attempts to take advantage of the situation by exacting an unrealistically high price. For example, Omri (9th century B.C.E) paid 6,000 shekels (two talents) for the land on which Samaria was built (1 Kings 16:24) and that a small plot like Machpelah could be purchased for 17 shekels at around 600 B.C.E (Jer. 32:9). The Talmud (Bava mettzia 87a) explains, each shekel that Abraham used to pay for the plot was worth 2,500 ordinary shekels (Rashi) (Abraham used silver shekels). If this were the case, Abraham paid a total of one million ordinary shekels for the cave. Verse 16 reveals Abraham’s insight into Efron’s agenda and without hesitation weighs out the stated value in silver in front of the sons of Het to make it very clear the field and cave would belong to him according to the terms of Efron and the Hittites. Finally, the hospitable and humble Abraham buries Sarah in the land of Canaan; a piece of land that he can call his own. This illustrates Abraham’s love for Sarah. He did not haggle over the price. As the midrash states, this is one of three places where Scripture attests to the Jews’ incontestable possession of the Holy Land. For the Cave of Machpelah, the temple site, and the Tomb of Joseph were all purchased without bargaining and paid for with unquestionably legal tender.
This burial site is a token. G-d promised Abraham and his descendants the land; Machpelah, then, is a visible sign of the future. A burial place for the dead is the only piece of land that Abraham, a non-resident, can hope to acquire. It represents a token title to the Promised Land and a symbol of possession when the people are far from the land- whether in Egyptian slavery or European exile. The site of the cave is today generally identified with Kharam el Khalil in Hebron. A huge wall surrounds the area. Inside the compound, the Byzantines built a Christian church which was later converted into a mosque by the Muslims who gained possession of the city and the site. In time, both Jews and Christians were prohibited from praying inside the area, but Jews could approach it by ascending the first five (later, seven) steps. After 1967, when Israel conquered the city, all faiths were once more permitted to visit the tombs. The actual cave which is below the site is presently inaccessible. Two small openings lead to it from inside the mosque. It is surmised that there are two or possibly three caverns below; the actual shape is unknown. According to Genesis all the patriarchs and matriarchs except for Rachel are buried there (Gen.49:29-32; 50:13). No reference to Machpelah occurs in any other book of the Bible outside Genesis. Machpelah translates as “the double” but may also be translated from the Ethiopian to mean “the portion.” We may ask ourselves why Abraham needed such a token of G-d’s future fulfillment of His promise? We can answer this question by remembering that Abraham was human. He represented the potential and the limits of faith. People will live and die for ideals that they know will not be realized in their lifetime, yet we strive to see at least a small portion accomplished. G-d understands this desire and fleshly limitation of His creation and often provides us a glimpse of the olam haba (world to come) in a tangible form that we can comprehend. Such is the case with manifestation of G-d as Yahshua. The Untouchable became touchable; the Word became flesh; the written Torah of G-d came to life. Yet, we are told in Isaiah 64:4 and 1 Cor. 2:9 that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no one’s heart has imagined all the things that G-d has prepared for those who love him.”

Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 1:1-31
This week’s haftarah describes an aging King David, echoing this week’s parashah that mentions “Abraham was old, advanced in days.”
King David was aging, and he was perpetually cold. A young maiden, Abishag of Shunam, was recruited to serve and provide warmth for the elderly monarch.
Adonaihu, who was one of David’s sons seized the opportunity to prepare ground for his ascension to his father’s throne when David would pass. David was not even dead, yet this evil son was planning his own future. Adoniahu recruited two influential individuals- the High Priest and the commander of David’s armies- both of whom had fallen out of David’s good graces, to champion his cause. This is so typical of cowards who want to aggrandize themselves and move into positions of authority. He arranged to be transported in a chariot with fifty people running before him and invited a number of his sympathizers to a festive party where he publicized his royal ambitions.
The prophet Nathan encouraged Bat Sheva, mother of Solomon, to approach King David and plead with him to reaffirm his choice of Solomon as his successor. This she did, mentioning Adoniahu’s recent actions to the King of which he was unaware. Nathan later joined Bat Sheva and the king to express support for Bat Sheva’s request. King David acceded to their request: “Indeed,” he told Bat Sheva, “ as I swore to you by the L-rd G-d of Israel saying, ‘Surely Solomon, your son, shall reign after me and he shall sit on my throne in my stead, ‘ surely, so will I swear this day.”
B’rit Chadashah: Focus on Mattityahu (Matthew) 8:19-22
“A Torah- teacher approached and said to him (Yahshua), ‘Rabbi, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Yahshua said to him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds flying about have nests, but the Son of Man has no home of his own.’ Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Sir, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Yahshua replied,’ Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Son of Man: One of the titles of the Messiah based on Daniel 7:13-14, where the text has “bar-enosh.” (Aramaic). Bar-enosh, like the Hebrew ben adam, can also mean “son of man,” “typical man,” “one schooled to be a man,” or simply “man” both heaven and on earth to be a man. Yahshua refers to himself by this title frequently, stressing his full identification with the human condition (Rom. 5:12-21; 8:3-39; 1 Cor. 15:21-49; Phil. 2:5-11).
In verses 21-22 we learn that IF we consider ourselves to be true followers, talmidim, disciples of Yahshua and lovers of G-d, we must rearrange our priorities. This disciple’s father was not physically dead. The son wanted to return to his comfortable existence and remain at home until his father died. Only after he would gain his inheritance would he consider following Yahshua. On this and other excuses not to follow Yahshua read Luke 9:57-62. Yahshua explicitly refers to those who choose the existence in this world over serving G-d as “the dead.” Let the spiritually dead, those concerned with the benefits of this world, including inheritances, remain with each other in life and eventually be buried with the rest of their own. The true disciple must get his/her priorities straight. Consequences of not making this choice is clear (Matt. 13:14-15, 22; 19:16-26; Luke 14:15-24; Luke 16:23-31). May we learn to make life choices both great and small that that will fulfill our purpose to glorify G-d.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart