Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Chayei Sarah 5775 (November 2014), Ensuring leadership
While we discussed the haftarah as a key to understanding last week's parsha, I never mentioned the obvious parallel of the end of the haftarah, the section only read traditionally by Ashkenazi communities, about the revival of the son of the Shunamit woman, and how it is suggestive of the akeidah. While Yitzchak willingly ascended the mizbeyach and his father prepared to make of him a korban, the Shunamit woman calmly prepared her seemingly dead son's body and spoke calmly to her husband, she fell at Elisha's feet in agony over her son's loss and begged that if possible he revive the child.
Just so the midrash says, only a (somewhat falsified) vision of Yitzchak being sacrificed allowed the angel of death to approach Sarah in her great distress, for now at the beginning of this week's parsha Sarah dies, leaving a huge void for women and of course all holy households of the time. For while Avraham focussed only on complete obedience to G-d, Sarah with her equal or greater holiness could experience complete obedience while still feeling the emotions of a human parent. Since as we have discussed before it is the women who bring holiness into the whole household and to the children far more than the men, the loss of Sarah as a teacher was huge. In addition, the yeshiva of Shem and Aiver was still available also to the men while only Sarah had ministered, supported, and taught the women of the world seeking Hash-m's teachings.
This week's parsha, of course, begins with Sarah's death followed immediately (after bargaining for the land holding Maaras haMachpeilah to inter Sarah and sitting shiva for her) by Avraham dispatching his servant Eliezer on a mission to bring back a girl of Avraham's family to wed Yitzchak. Eliezer departs on his journey expecting it to take a normal 18 days and is miraculously transported in only hours to his destination. On arriving, he sets a deal with G-d, that he will wait at the local well and look for signs of a noble girl whom he will assume must be from the holy family of Avraham. Bizarre though this may sound when he could obviously simply inquire about how to find the family directly, he is both rewarded in the success of this method in the zechus of Avraham and Yitzchak, that Rivka indeed immediately ascended to the well; and simultaneously has his own hopes dashed as his main motivation in such a strange plan was presumably to be unsuccessful and to continue to push Avraham to marry Yitzchak to one of his own daughters.
Rivka as we know is a true rose among thorns, a tzaddekes eager to leave her family of intriguers, thieves, and murderers with alacrity. She speaks carefully, only the truth as she knows it, she speaks directly and clearly, and she takes risks in speaking up directly for her own sake to agree to leave immediately to Avraham's camp from her own home. She takes nothing but what she has been given by Eliezer, and her own nurse and servant Devorah as a chaperone.
Finally at the closing of the parsha, Avraham dies, having seen Rivka reintroduce light and completeness to Sarah's tent with her holiness and greatness. Before his death, he recognizes that Sarah in having pushed to remove Hagar and Yishmael from the household was fully correct (he has in fact remarried Hagar now renamed Keturah, because her being removed from Avraham for a period of years has brought about her own complete tshuvah, which Sarah foresaw), and that likewise he had to provide a suitable wife for Yitzchak who could also serve as a Naviah and female leader of the G-d fearing people. If not for Sarah's wisdom, all could have ended very differently for Avraham's family and followers throughout the land.
This week's haftarah is taken from I Melachim (1-31), telling of Dovid haMelech installing Shlomo as his rightful heir and successor to the throne. The obvious parallel is that it tells of Dovid in his old age, while the parsha speaks of Avraham in his. This is very superficial though.
Dovid haMelech at this point in his live was suffering from extreme effects to his body of old age, and years of physical toil, distress, warfare, and exertion in the name of learning Torah as well. While he had put down the rebellion of his son Avshalom, he now unknowingly faced a rebellion hidden from no one but himself by Avshalom's younger brother Adoniyahu. The general Yoav and the former Kohen Gadol Evyasar who had been removed from office by Dovid haMelech were openly supporting Adoniyahu despite knowing full well that Shlomo had been promised and prophesied the throne.
Now Shlomo's mother, the tzaddekes BasSheva, along with Nassan haNavi, came to speak to Dovid. They clearly explained the situation and thread, first BasSheva in detail (she then left the king's presence), then Nassan who only corroborated what BasSheva told the king but who verified all she had said (the Ramban explains that while a nasi can simply allow nevua to take its course, it's incumbent on a navi to take action to make it do so). Dovid called BasSheva back to his presence and pronounced that that very day he would crown and anoint Shlomo, which he then did, in the presence of Nassan, Bnayahu the head of the Sanhedren, and Dovid's retinue, Shlomo was coronated at the age of 12.
And so we see that it's not the machinations of would-be kings, king-makers, prophets, or generals who control the highest levels of action (and in fact who lead to the conditions whereby the first Beis HaMikdash could be build). It's the actions of the holy Jewish mother not demanding, not scheming, but using her intuitive nevua and her understanding of the needs of others which leads to the fulfillment of prophecy and the meeting of the needs of individuals, families, kingdoms, and whole peoples.