CHAYEY SARAH 5778
Love is a many splendored thing
It’s the April rose that only grows in the early Spring
Love is nature's way of giving a reason to be living
The golden crown that makes a man a king
Once on a high and windy hill, In the morning mist
Two lovers kissed and the world stood still
Then your fingers touched my silent heart and taught it how to sing
Yes, true love’s a many splendored thing
My mother use to sing this from time to time. I think it was recorded by Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams. Why do I sing it now? Because today’s parsha is all about love. It begins with Abraham mourning over his wife Sarah and one can feel Abraham’s great love for Sarah as he tries to deal with the truly profound sense of loss. It moves on as Abraham expresses his love for his son Isaac as he seeks to help him find a suitable mate. And near the end of the parsha, Isaac meets Rebecca and falls in love. If fact, one of the very 1st times the word “love” is mentioned in the Torah is when Isaac meets Rebecca (Gen. 24:16): “And Isaac brought her [Rebecca] to his mother Sarah’s tent, she became his wife, va-yeh-ehaveha, and he loved her.”
In Hebrew the word for love is ahava from the root hav, “to give.” The indication is that every instance of real love has the same foundation—whether it be a love between a man and a woman, a parent and child, close friends, a person for his/her country or a person for Gd. Love is all about what we give. The way it works is, as we give to those we love, we in turn grow in the process. This is perhaps why so many are disappointed with love. They see it as an ultimate goal and want to get as much as they possibly can out of it. However, the only way to get more out of love is to give more.
It’s surprising to read that after Abraham buries the love of his life—Sarah—he remarries at the very end of the parsha (Gen. 25:1-4) and fathers 6 more sons! All we are told about his new wife is that her name was Keturah. Our Sages, however, needed to know more about her—after all, she snagged the most eligible bachelor in the ancient Near East since Isaac had tied the knot.
As if out of a soap opera, Rashi asserts that Keturah was none other than Hagar—Sarah’s former maidservant and Abraham’s long-lost concubine that he had sent away because of Sarah’s insistence. The Rashbam and Ibn Ezra insist that Keturah was not Hagar. Who Keturah was we’ll probably never know for sure, but there is much to be learned from both approaches.
It’s rather sweet to think that Abraham may have reconnected with his former lover Hagar. We were left wondering about the depths of his love for Hagar and the turmoil he felt as he was earlier torn between Hagar and Sarah. We were also left wondering how such wounds could possibly be healed. It’s no surprise that Abraham then turned to Gd for marriage counseling, and that Gd gave him the best possible marital advice (Gen. 21:12): “All that your wife Sarah tells you, you listen to her voice.” It was only then that he was able to let Hagar go.
According to Rashi, Hagar does not merely resurface when the time was right. Rather, her new name Keturah attested to the fact that she remained faithful to Abraham all through the years of her banishment. Keturah comes from the Hebrew k’toret (incense) which is pure and sweet smelling.
How did Abraham meet up again with Hagar—now Keturah? As Abraham’s servant Eliezer returns from Mesopotamia with Isaac’s wife-to-be Rebecca, they meet Isaac who also had just returned from B’eyr Lachai Ro-i (Gen. 24:62). What was he doing there? Rashi tells us that he went there to fetch Hagar, because that is where Hagar went after being banished. Even though Hagar was his mother’s rival, Isaac knew that Abraham loved her and needed her now, more than ever.
It’s such a tender narrative if you think about it. At the very same time Abraham was finding a wife for his son Isaac, Isaac went to find Hagar to be a wife for his lonely father Abraham!
It reminds me of the story of a boy who often went on vacation with his grandparents. On each flight he noticed that his grandmother invariably sat next to the window and his grandfather by the aisle. He asked his grandmother about it. “Oh yes,” she told him, “Your grandfather prefers the aisle. I actually also like sitting by the aisle as opposed to the window, but I know how important it is to your grandfather and I’m happy to let him sit there.”
He then asked his grandfather about the seating arrangement. “Of course,” said his grandfather, “I prefer the window seat, but I know how much your grandmother enjoys sitting next to the window, so I’m glad to let her sit there.”
Amazed by his grandparents, he thought about whether he should tell them the truth. In the end he decided not to tell. It would have ruined everything. Yes, “love is a many splendored thing,” to love means to give.
The Rashbam and Ibn Ezra maintain that Keturah was not Hagar and a no less beautiful narrative is created when we view it this way. Before Abraham remarried, the Torah (Gen. 24:1) tells us: V’Avraham zakeyn ba bayamim, v’ Hashem beyrach et Avraham bakol (Now Abraham was old, well on in years, and Gd had blessed Abraham with everything). Perhaps Abraham felt that way—old yet blessed with everything—until he saw his son and daughter-in-law celebrating new love. Then perhaps, Abraham’s own heart might have reawakened. Despite advanced age, he still felt vibrant and full of life, looking forward to his remaining years. After Sarah’s death he certainly craved companionship. And why can’t someone who is old be very much excited about finding new love?
The Malbim (Gen 25:1) makes this point beautifully by comparing us to trees whose fruits grow anew each year: “As the tree has a leaf and a grain [which grows anew even after the leaf has fallen], so too a human being will find love in the heart [after a season of loss].” Even an old tree grows new leaves and bears new fruit.
Was it a chutzpah for Abraham—after Gd had given him everything—to want more: love, friendship, companionship? But what’s the point having wealth without someone to share it with? Gd’s bounty is appreciated all the more when we experience it hand in hand with another. Perhaps the truest demonstration of courage is for an old widow or widower to seek out new love.
While not counted among his 10 Divine Tests, the reawakening of Abraham’s heart may very well have been one of the greatest tests he faced in life. And he succeeded wonderfully! As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch noted, Abraham lived another 35 years after his 2nd marriage, which—notes Rabbi Hirsch—is longer than most 1st marriages last! Yes, true love’s a many splendored thing. Amen!