This week we read about the process by which a wife was procured for Yitzach. Avraham gave very specific instructions as to how this was to be accomplished. Eli'azar was to go to his family that had remained in Haran and find a suitable virgin and bring her back. Under no circumstances was Yitzach to go to Haran, if the woman was unwilling to come. So we ask the question, why? First, why not a Canaanite? The usual response is because of the idolatry of the Canaanites, which, while true, does not adequately answer the question. We know from Scripture that Avraham’s family were idolaters too, as as we follow the thread of the story (particularly the events surrounding Lavan, Ya’akov and Rachel), they were still idolaters and the character of Lavan and Beluel could hardly be described as righteous. And the idolatry of Babylon and Canaan was not that different that it would adequately explain the requirement to go to Haran.
And if blood was the reason, Avraham wanted someone from his own family, then why was Yitzach prohibited from going there, even for a little while? Certainly, he was to stay in the promised land most of the time, but even Avraham occasionaly went other places. The real issue comes down to family dynamics and the importance of the message G-d had entrusted to Avraham, and now, by extension and the sovereign choice of G-d, Yitzach.
One of the greatest enemies of G-d’s people has always been assimilation. Torah constantly reminds us not to be like the nations around us, to remain separate, to be holy. When Israel began to be like the nations around them, they lost their identity as the people of G-d. When Israel allowed the Canaanites to live among them in disobedience to the command of G-d, Israel became like them. The same thing would have happened to Yitzach and his family if he would have married a Canaanite or gone to Haran.
If he had done either, he would have had family members in close proximity that would constantly be exerting pressure on him and his children to compromise the truth with their idolatry. G-d did not want that kind of influence on his project at such an early stage. Had he married a Canaanite princess, he would have has a powerful king to deal with constantly, one who would certainly want to see his grandchildren grow up in the traditions he valued. We often see the same thing happen to us, as the christmass season approaches. Raising up the next generation is too crucial for that kind of compromise and in this case, distance from his wife’s family, be that Canaanite or Avraham’s family in Haran, was the preferred method.
Ultimately what we have here is a lesson in association, the first of many in the Torah. All of us have a past, we have all made friends, bound ourselves with varying degrees of dedication to other communities before we came to the truth. When we come to the truth, many of those associations need to be broken, even those of family or close fraternity. Yahushua said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy...” Rav Sha’ul asked “what fellowship does light have with darkness?” G-d taught Israel in the desert to make sure they had a clean slate on which He could write. G-d did not want Yitzach to have close family entanglements that could negatively impact him. We are called to be a holy people and that means separate. G-d knows the power in association, that is why He created a holy community, so those associations could have a positive impact. Let us all leave the entanglements that hinder and go on in the race with fresh vigor, accomplishing His work in our lives.
We continue to follow the story of Abraham’s life in this parasha. Many of our normal life events are found here. There is a death in the family, there is a marriage, children are born. We have all seen these things happen around us in our lives, the story could be our own. But the way these things happen and the way they are dealt with in Avraham's day are completely different from our own. The values surrounding these events are completely different than those we are accustomed to.
The two main events here are the death of Sarah and the marriage of Yitzach. The burial of Sarah created a real problem for Avraham. He needed to buy land but his status as an alien among them normally made such a purchase difficult if not impossible. Aliens would normally not be allowed to purchase land in perpetuity which means that at some point the burial place could be emptied and used for something else, animal lodging perhaps. To us, this is not normally a consideration. We are buried in recognized cemeteries that will be around long after we are gone. Burial places are often treated the same way as death. It is something that is not in the forefront of our thoughts and plans. Death is something that happens in hospitals or nursing homes when we are old and used up. We don’t see it unless it happens to someone very close to us. And once they are gone, their remains and their graves are not something we are concerned with. Yet Avraham saw something crucial in securing a perpetual burial place not only for his wife but for his posterity. Why was it important for them to be together in death? Does it have something to do with maintaining the ties of the clan even after death? Does it firmly root them with a sense of the past, give future generations unbroken ties to those who came before? By doing so, are they enabled to pick up the journey where their ancestors left off instead of starting at square one every generation? Does it keep a sense of mortality before those yet alive so they concern their lives with the things that are most important? I think the answers to all these questions are yes.
The second event is the marriage of Yitzak. The first thing we have difficulty identifying with is arranged marriages. Although Rivkah gave her consent to go, she did so to marry a man she had never met, leaving a family she would never see again. Yitzak was not consulted, Avraham simply decided it was time for him to get married and sent a servant to find someone suitable. Yitzak’s future marital bliss was in the hands of a hired hand! And think of Rivkah. Life was going on as it always had and then a servant shows up from a distant land and takes her from all she had ever known. This was not a choice by someone having a midlife crisis looking for a change. Her life was turned upside down in the course of a week.
These two things have a common thread that our present culture has difficulty dealing with. One hundred years ago people left family and friends in Europe for America with no expectation of seeing them again. Death was a more common occurrence and was not hidden. Neither of those things are true today. Yet death comes to all and our world is not so predictable that nothing happens that turns it upside down. One may be a victim of a crime or a natural disaster. We fear negative news from the doctor. Accidents happen. We have attempted to eliminate many of the risks from our lives. We convince ourselves that bad things happen to other people, people we see on TV newscasts. We think we are going to live forever and we waste the best years of our lives on things that don’t matter. When bad things do happen we have no idea how to cope. When the soldiers came back from the two world wars, no one heard about ‘post traumatic stress syndrome’. One hundred years ago when someone in the neighborhood was the victim of a crime, there were no counseling centers set up. Instead they put together a posse and got the guy. We have sought to eliminate risk and create an alternative reality where we have very little control over what happens to us and can do nothing about it when it does. The nomad dealt with situations like these all the time. They were not mentally incapacitated when negative things happened or obstacles fell into their paths. They overcame these things all the time and they had no one to rely on but themselves and their clan. We have lost that. Family ties are secondary or non-existent. We are used to having things given to us and impersonal groups to bail us out. When bad things happen, those same impersonal forces (justice system, insurance companies, government) emasculate our natural response and limit our options. We become frustrated and feel helpless. The best way to cope with difficulties is to engage in actions that attempt to fix the problem. That is the nomadic way.