Parashat Hayyei Sarah/Thanksgiving (5780 – 2019)
Genesis 23:1 – 25:18
So where is God in our Torah reading? After a Torah portion, last week, that was saturated with Divine appearances, announcements, negotiations and commands, in this week’s reading God is completely silent.
It’s not that God is unacknowledged. But God does not speak. The death and burial of Sarah passes without mention of God at all. Then we read that God “has blessed Abraham with everything” (Gen. 24:1 – and see Sparks 2016). But there are no explicit words of blessing recorded. Then, in spite of being in this blessed state, Abraham feels a definite lack of something: he decides that it is he who must act to secure a bride for his son, Isaac. So, as God is silent about how to go about this important task, Abraham must make a plan based on his recollection of God’s previous revelations. (See Sparks for 2013.)
When Abraham’s faithful servant embarks on this mission he invokes God Name, and when he gets to his destination he prays for God’s help. But God does not say a thing, nor does God explicitly affirm the servant’s choices. And so it goes throughout the rest of the reading.
Last week’s portion told of a God Who decides everything – the birth of a child, the death of a city – and Who lets people know of these decisions and tells them how to cope with these Divinely controlled realities. But, this week, Sarah’s death is neither foretold nor justified by God. Abraham’s plan to pick a bride for his son is his own. God does not command Abraham concerning the disposition of his estate, and God’s blessing to Isaac, Abraham’s heir, is not put into words.
This week’s portion gives us people who dearly seek to serve God but who are not given a word of support or instruction as to how to do this. So how do they proceed? Everything hinges on what they can remember or what they have learned from the Divinely saturated past. In a way, this portion is so much more correspondent to our own experiences today, when we no longer receive direct revelations and when it is up to us to decide when something is a Divine challenge, a Divine blessing, or, instead, mere circumstance and coincidence. In our Torah portion God’s words are not spoken, but they are “heard” in the hearts of Abraham, his servant, other Biblical characters, and of the Biblical narrator. But what of the reader?
For us, today, God’s words are not spoken, either. But can they be heard nonetheless?
Rabbi David Greenstein
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