Chayei Sarah for Tweens: Brotherly Love

Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1−25:18

D'Var Torah By: Barbara Binder Kadden, RJE

In Chayei Sarah, we have another opportunity to read and learn about the original Jewish family. Sarah, Abraham's wife, dies and Abraham, now alone, seeks to ensure that the next generation will continue the Jewish traditions which he and Sarah have established. To that end Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac from among his kin. Eliezer travels to the land of Abraham's birth and returns with Rebecca, kin to Abraham and considered an appropriate wife. At the close of this portion, Abraham dies. We read: And Abraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah..." (Genesis 25:8-9)


This is the first time that we see Isaac and Ishmael being brothers and working together. Theirs has not been an easy relationship. Ishmael and his mother Hagar lost their home when Sarah grew concerned about Ishmael's behavior toward Isaac. What little we know from the text and later from commentary on the Torah, Isaac and Ishmael had either no relationship or one filled with anger. But there is commentary to suggest that Abraham was able to die contented because Isaac and Ishmael were reconciled. At last his sons were family to each other. Isaac then becomes the progenitor of the Jewish people and Ishmael has that same status among the Muslims.


In the following midrash* a very different kind of brotherly relationship is given to us.

The Story of Two Brothers

Once long ago there were two brothers who shared a large field. The brothers grew wheat together in this field and shared equally in the harvest. Each brother had his own house. The older brother was married and had children. The younger brother lived alone.

One night during the harvest the older brother could not sleep. He was worrying about his younger brother. The older brother thought to himself, my younger brother is all alone and I have a wife and children. When I am old my children will take care of me. I must give some of my wheat to my brother so he may save for his old age.

On that same night, the younger brother tossed and turned in his bed worrying about his older brother. He thought to himself, my older brother has a family to feed and I only need to feed myself. I must give some of my wheat to my brother.

Quietly, and in secret, each brother loaded his arms with wheat and carried it to his brother's storage area. The brothers did this for three nights. On the following mornings when the brothers would check their piles of wheat they remained the same size. Each wondered, how could this be? I know I am putting more wheat in my brother's pile.

On the fourth night when the moon was full each brother again rose up. Each filled his arms with wheat and made his way to his brother's storage area. Then, suddenly, by the light of the moon, the two brothers met in the middle of the field. Each realized what the other had been doing. They put down their armfuls of wheat and hugged each other.

Jewish tradition tells us that it was on this spot where the two brothers met that the Beit HaMikdash, the Temple in Jerusalem, was built.

To Talk About

  1. Why did the brothers in the midrash worry about each other?
  2. How did they show their concern for each other?
  3. How did the brothers feel about each other?
  4. Why would the spot where the brothers met be a good place to build the Temple?

Sometimes, when it comes to brothers and sisters, we behave like Isaac and Ishmael and other times we are more like the brothers in the midrash.

  1. Remember and share a special time you shared with a sibling (or other relative/friend).
  2. What made that time special? Why do you think you remember it?

Sometimes it is hard to remember and talk about a time when you did not get along with a brother or sister (other relative/friend).

  1. How can we improve the way we treat each other? Give some examples.
  2. Think and talk about the power of love between the two brothers in the midrash. What did this power of love between them lead to?
  3. What might happen if you and your siblings shared that kind of love?

Did You Know

... that as part of the Blessing after Meals known as the Birkat HaMazon there is a special petitionary prayer relating to Isaac and Ishmael. It reads:

Harachaman hu yiten achava
b'nei Yitzhak
u-vein b'nei Yishmael.


May the Merciful One create harmony
the children of Isaac (the Jewish people)
and the children of Ishmael (the Arab people).


Let us remember this prayer as we work for peace between our Jewish community and the Arab community. Shabbat Shalom.

*A midrash is a story about a story in the Bible known in Hebrew as the Tanach.

Reference Materials

Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1–25:18
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 156–167; Revised Edition, pp. 153–167;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 111–132

Originally published: