My notes on Chayei Sarah

Parashat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Genesis 23

23:19          And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan.

Comment: This burial plot in Hebron is the first acquisition of the promised land. The first “inhabitant” is the matriarch Sarah. It is the most permanent inhabitation in this world, since when one is alive he or she may move residence. Sarah herself moved residence in several countries (e.g., Ur, Land of Cannan, Egypt, …). Now she was settled down permanently in the promised land. Her loved ones would join her, her descendants would visit her grave, and she will be resurrected from the dead in the world to come.

“Machpelah”: in Hebrew it can mean doubling or product. First “buried” and then “machpelah”, this reminds me of what Jesus said about his own death (John 12:24): “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” 

These teach us that the secret to multiplication is to bury the “old self” first. Only parents who are willing to make self-sacrifice for their children can regard the success of future generations as their own success. For a teacher who is willing to teach students to surpass himself, the success of his academic descendants has actually become his own success. Jesus Christ died to atone for the sins of the world, but the church of billions of Christians who were reborn in him became his living body on earth. 


Genesis 24

24:63          And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming.

Comment: There was enough light to see the camels and for the camels to travel, so the time was likely late afternoon near sunset. This is the biblical support of the Jewish tradition that Isaac established the afternoon prayer. See


24:67          And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Comment: Why does the Torah spend Chapter 24 to talk about Rebecca, after talking about Sarah’s death,  before talking about Abraham’s new marriage with Keturah in Chapter 25? 

I think this is because Torah regards Rebecca, not Keturah, as the successor of Sarah. Jewish commentaries here talk about similarities between Rebecca and Sarah in terms of the blessings coming from observing three commandments that are specific to women: lighting the sabbath candles, separating challah from dough, and family purity. See, e.g., Rashi and Siftei Chakhamim:

Rebecca will be the matriarch to the future believers, not Keturah. Messiah will come from Rebecca, not from Keturah.


Why was the birth of Rebecca mentioned briefly near the end of Chapter 22, right before Chapter 23 talking about Sarah’s death?  

I think this is to indicate that Rebecca was born to continue Sarah’s mission on earth. So Sarah’s death would not stop Gd’s mission on earth because her successor was already born. On the other hand, Rebecca’s birth being earlier than Sarah’s death shows that she is not a reincarnation of Sarah. Bible does not emphasize reincarnation, but instead, inspiration from the same spirit, to continue a mission from Gd on earth. In this sense, Joshua succeeds Moses (Deuteronomy 34:9), Elisha succeeds Elijah (2nd Kings 2:9). The successor has a chance to overlap with the predecessor, unlike reincarnation that is only supposed to happen after someone’s death.


How did I learn about this Bible interpretation method  related to the order of the texts? 

I learned this from Rabbi (Dr., Barron) Jonathan Sacks,_Baron_Sacks, from an article that he posted several months before his death, where he explained how the red cow ritual in Numbers 19 is related to the deaths of Miriam and Aaron in Numbers 20 His Yarhzeit (anniversary of death) is often around the time of reading this portion, Chayei Sarah.


Genesis 25

25:1          Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah.

Comment: Jewish custom is not against marriage after loss of spouse. Genesis 2:18 stated one of the earliest negative comments from the Creator: “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

It is unclear what positive consequences this late marriage led to. It is possible that the great convert Jethro (Moses’ father in law) descended from this marriage, since Jethro was a priest in Midian (Exodus 18:1) and the next verse (Genesis 25:2) says that Midian was born from this new marriage of Abraham.


25:10          The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.

Comment: Sarah was the main wife of Abraham, who bore together with him their descendants in faith. By being buried together, they will meet each other again at the first opportunity upon resurrection from the dead.