Chayei Sarah for Tweens: Everyday Miracles

Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1−25:18

In the biblical view, creation and history belong together. Creation is the foundation of a covenantal relationship between God and world and, in a specific and important sense, between God and Israel (Plaut, 23).

This parashah, named "the life of Sarah," begins with her death at the age of 127. Abraham purchases the cave of Machpelah and its surrounding land for her burial site. The portion continues with Eliezer, Abraham's servant, going back to Haran, Abraham's native land, to find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer prays to God for a sign to help identify the right woman, and his prayers are answered when he is met with Rebecca's great hospitality. When Isaac marries her, he finds comfort from the loss of his mother. At the close of the parashah, Abraham dies at the age of 175, and Isaac and Ishmael bury him alongside Sarah.

Third aliyah: Genesis 24:10-24:25
Eliezer is on a mission to find Isaac a suitable wife. Upon reaching the village well, the typical gathering place of the time, he utters this prayer:

Eternal One, God of my master Abraham, please bring me luck today, and do a kindness for my master Abraham. (24:12)


In the course of our parashah's account of the search for Isaac's wife, Abraham never stipulates the characteristics of a desirable bride-to-be other than her land of origin. The Sages have commented on Rebecca's attributes: a very beautiful woman who behaved modestly, showed kindness to animals, and was a model of hospitable behavior. However, as Gunther Plaut explains, biblical marriages were not arranged by the "first comes love, then comes marriage" principals of modern romance. Rather, the union was "made in heaven," or directed by God. (165)

The Tanach can be read as the story of God's hand moving in human history. Sefer B'reishit vividly and compellingly portrays divine providence. Why then would Eliezer ask for luck to intervene? Nechama Leibowitz explains, "There is surely a self-contradiction in him praying to God to engineer a coincidence." (New Studies in Bereshit, 239) Nahum Sarna interprets Eliezer's prayer to be "that his exercise of discretion might be in accordance with God's will." (Understanding Genesis, 173) But Eliezer's reaction in verse 21 may be a clue that he was praying for a sign; "The man stood staring at her, silent, in order to learn whether or not the Eternal had cleared the way for him." Rashi explains that Eliezer looked with amazement and wonder. When his prayer was indeed answered, Eliezer was stunned.

We may find it hard to empathize with Abraham who has a direct, personal relationship with God. Eliezer finds himself in the household of the uniquely spiritual Abraham, responding to the world in a way that clearly acknowledges God's presence. In this episode, Eliezer acts as an agent fulfilling God's mission that also happened to be Abraham's as well. God had already promised Abraham that his legacy would continue in Isaac's line. Eliezer recognizes the significance of his role, effectively ensuring the continuity of what would become the Jewish people. He opened his eyes physically and spiritually in order to appreciate the magnitude of the unfolding drama. He was a witness to God's presence in history.

We may also open our eyes to see God's presence in the world, even on a daily basis. Our liturgy is designed to remind us of "everyday miracles." There are also occasions when we feel our most fervent prayers are answered or that we ourselves are helping to do God's intention. These experiences can change our lives forever, adding a spiritual dimension that puts everything else in perspective.

Sarna points out that Eliezer's prayer is the first of this nature in the bible, an "inaudible prayer of the heart." (173) It is unprompted and unplanned, uttered by an individual with his own religious convictions toward an approachable God. The text reminds us of our indispensable role in the partnership with God and the unfolding of history. Although the union of Isaac and Rebecca is a fulfillment of the greater Divine purpose, there remains a human conduit who must act in accordance with it, again reminding us of the indispensable partnership between God and humankind.

To Talk About

  1. How do you think Eliezer felt when his prayer was answered? Have you ever felt that way?
  2. Eliezer prays a silent prayer to God for direction. When are some times when you need direction, or help understanding what to do? In these moments, how do you pray to God?
  3. Do you believe things happen for a reason or just by luck? Explain.

Further Learning

When Rebecca gives the camels water as Eliezer prayed, some commentators have suggested that this is a demonstration of one of Rebecca's many fine attributes: her kindness to animals. What are some other attributes or good qualities that would make Rebecca the right person to carry on the line of Abraham along with Isaac? What qualities does a foremother need to have?

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

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