The Death of Sarah

23:1 Sarah's lifetime was 127 years; the years of Sarah's life were all equally good: she enjoyed the advantages of old age in her youth and the advantages of youth in her old age.1 Furthermore, she retained the youthful beauty that she had miraculously regained before conceiving Isaac until her final days, and she died completely righteous, untainted by sin.2

2 Word reached Sarah about the binding of Isaac. The shock of Abraham's attempted sacrifice of her son coupled with the relief of hearing that he was spared was too much for her to bear,3 and she died. Thus Sarah died in Kiryat Arba ["The City of the Four"], which is Hebron, in Canaan. Hebron was also called Kiryat Arba because of the four giants who lived there: the three brothers Achiman, Sheishai, and Talmai; and their father. The name also refers prophetically to the fact that it was to be the resting place of four eminent couples: Abraham4 and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca,5 Jacob6 and Leah,7 and Adam and Eve (who were already buried there).

During Sarah's lifetime, three ongoing miracles occurred in her merit: the oil lamp in her tent would remain lit from one Friday to the next, even though it only held enough oil to last one day; even a small amount of the bread she baked would suffice to satisfy hunger; and a cloud, which is a physical manifestation of God's presence, would constantly hover above her tent. When she died, these miracles ceased.8

Abraham heard of his wife's death and came from Beersheba to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her. The Hittite inhabitants of Hebron all left work and also came to pay their last respects to Sarah.

3 Abraham rose from the presence of his dead wife, and he spoke to the Hittites in these words:

4 "Your nation presently rules over this part of Canaan. I, being of a different nationality, am a foreigner, and only a sojourner among you. I therefore ask you, as a private resident, to allow me to purchase a piece of property that I can make into a family burial ground within the territory you control, so that I can bury my dead wife from my presence. I will legally purchase only the private rights to this piece of property, while you will still retain national rights over it. On the other hand, if you refuse my request, you are thereby violating God's purpose in having given you temporary control of the land9 and therefore forfeiting your stewardship of it.10 I will thus take it as sign that the time has come for God's well-known promise to grant me this entire land11 to go into effect; in this event, I will assume national ownership over the land as well, and legally appropriate the property in this manner.12 However, I prefer to buy it, because only then will my ownership be absolute and incontrovertible."13

5 The Hittites replied to Abraham, saying to him:

6 "Listen to us, my lord. You are a prince of God in our midst;14 honor us, therefore, and bury your dead in the choicest of our burial sites. No one among us will deny you his burial site to bury your dead."

7 Abraham rose, and he bowed down to the people of that region, the Hittites.

8 He spoke to them and said: "I appreciate your offer, but I want to purchase my own property and designate it myself as a family burial ground. If it is really your will that I bury my dead from my presence, listen to me, and entreat Ephron son of Tzochar on my behalf.

9 Let him grant me the Cave of the Machpelah ["Doubling"], which you all originally owned jointly, but which now belongs to him alone,15 and is located at the edge of his field." The Cave of the Machpelah was so named because (a) there was a two-level house nearby it, and (b) the crypts in it were double and therefore suited for burying couples. Abraham told the Hittites that he wished to buy this cave because it also had a place for him to eventually be buried alongside Sarah, as well as places for future patriarchal couples. He did not mention the fact that Adam and Eve were buried there, however, since the Hittites were probably not aware of this—and had they been aware of it, they probably would not have wanted to sell Abraham the cave.16 "Let him sell it to me for its full price,17 in your presence, so I can make it into a family burial ground."

10 Ephron was then seated among the Hittites who had gathered to pay their respects to Sarah. Ephron at the time was merely an ordinary citizen, but the Hittites promptly promoted him to a position of honor so that Abraham would not have to negotiate with a person of inferior social status. Ephron the Hittite replied to Abraham in the presence of the Hittites, so that all who came to the city gate—where they had all gathered—could hear:

11 "No, my lord, I will not accept payment for it; I would be honored to give it to you. Furthermore, listen to me: You only asked for the cave, but as far as I am concerned, I have already given you the entire field as well. And as for the cave within it, I have already given it, too, to you; and I have given it to you in full view of my compatriots. Bury your dead." Once Ephron offered to give Abraham the entire field, Abraham no longer needed to bring up the issue of a family burial ground; once he would own the whole field, he would obviously be able to do whatever he pleased with any part of it.18

12 Abraham bowed down before the people of that place.

13 He spoke to Ephron so that all the local people could hear, in these words: "If only you would listen to me! I do not want to accept the field for free. I am giving you the money for the field. It's here, in my hand; take it from me so that I may bury my dead there."

14 Ephron replied to Abraham, saying to him:

15 "My lord, listen to me. What's four hundred silver shekels' worth of land between friends like you and me? Forget about the money and bury your dead." Although four hundred silver shekels was an exorbitant price to pay for the field, Ephron meant to flaunt his generosity by feigning to refuse payment.

16 Nonetheless, Abraham understood what Ephron really meant. Abraham weighed out for Ephron the amount of silver that he had mentioned in the presence of the Hittites, 400 full-sized shekels, which are universally-negotiable currency. Despite the fact that Ephron had loudly proclaimed his largesse in being willing to give the property to Abraham for free, he in fact did accept Abraham's extravagant overpayment. By paying its full price, Abraham entirely severed any legal association of Ephron's with the field.

Second Reading
Ephron's Field of the Machpelah, which faced Mamre—the field, the cave within it, and every tree within its perimeter—was thus confirmed

18 as Abraham's purchase publicly, in full view of the Hittites and of all who came to the gate of his city, thereby making the purchase incontrovertible. When Abraham purchased them, the status of the field and the cave rose from that of a commoner's property to that of a noble's.19

19 Once Abraham purchased the field and the cave and thereby (a) completely disassociated Ephron's name from them and (b) elevated its status to that of royal property, he buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the Field of the Machpelah facing Mamre, which is Hebron, in Canaan. In order to show proper respect for Sarah, Abraham wanted to bury her in the field of a noble, rather than in that of a commoner.20

20 The field and its cave were thus confirmed as Abraham's property by the fact that he designated the cave in accordance with his intention in buying it, as a burial ground, purchased outright and unequivocally from the Hittites through Ephron.21

The Engagement of Rebecca

24:1 Three years later, in 2088, Abraham decided it was time for Isaac to marry Rebecca. By this time, Abraham was 140 years old. Even though he was old, and maturity tends to breed benign nonchalance, Abraham continued to deeply internalize his experiences.22 God had blessed Abraham with a son in his old age worthy of becoming his successor, and this son was everything to Abraham. So he felt deeply responsible to guarantee the perpetuation of his line in order to ensure that the Divine mission to which he had dedicated his life would continue.

2 He said to his servant Eliezer,23 the elder member of his household who was in charge of all that he owned: "I want you to swear to me. In order for this type of oath to take force, the person taking the oath must hold a holy object while swearing.24 The only physical object so far that has been sanctified—by virtue of it having been the object of an explicit commandment from God—is my reproductive organ, which He commanded me to circumcise. Therefore, place your hand under my thigh for this purpose,

3 and I will bind you by an oath to God. Ever since coming to this land, I have been working successfully towards making its inhabitants aware of the existence of God and His involvement in human affairs. In their eyes, therefore, He is now not only the God of heaven but also the God of the earth. Nonetheless, they have not yet sufficiently internalized this awareness for it to have changed them for the better in any profound way; it still remains mere lip service for them.25 Therefore, I adjure you not to take a wife for my son from among the daughters of the Canaanites in whose midst I live.

4 Instead, you must go to my former land, to Charan, the place where my family still lives, and take a wife from among them for my son, Isaac. Even though I have been away from my family for sixty-five years and the distance has prevented me from influencing them directly, they are nonetheless scions of the royal, firstborn line of Shem, and have inherited its aristocratic upbringing, noble gentility, and family traditions and teachings."

5 The servant said to him, "Perhaps the woman will not wish to follow me to this land. Shall I take your son back to the land from which you departed? After all, if you prefer that I take a wife for Isaac from among your family members rather than from among the people whom you have been influencing and living with for the past sixty-five years, then it should not matter where the couple live afterwards."

6 Abraham said to him, "Be most careful not to take my son back there.

7 True, I would prefer my future daughter-in-law be of my family's lineage. But lineage alone does not suffice. When she and my son marry, they must grow together in a fitting environment, which is not to be found anywhere else but here. Although it is true that the people of this land only pay lip service to God's involvement in human affairs, at least they do that! In contrast, the people where I used to live consider God as only the God of heaven: although I did convince them of His existence,26 I did not succeed in convincing them that He is involved with human affairs. This was how they conceived of God when He took me away from my father's house in Charan, and all the more so when He took me away from the land of my family, Ur of the Kasdites, and this how they still conceive of Him. Moreover, God spoke concerning me—and even swore to me in the Covenant between the Halves—saying, 'To your offspring will I give this land,'27 clearly indicating that my son should remain here. I am therefore confident that He will send His angel before you to orchestrate events to your advantage in advance.28 With His help, you shall take a wife for my son from there.

8 But, despite all this, if the woman does not wish to follow you back here, then you shall be absolved of this oath of mine, and may seek a wife for my son from among the daughters of my local confederates, Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre. Although they are not my relatives, they are distinguished leaders and monotheists,29 and this way the couple can remain under my tutelage. In the final analysis, environment and education are more crucial than pedigree.30 In any event, do not return my son to there, even though I foresee that his son will indeed return there for a time."

Eliezer had a daughter of his own, and suggested that Abraham consider her as a wife for Isaac, rather than considering a daughter of Aner, Eshkol, or Mamre. Abraham told him, however: "My son is blessed, and you, being a descendant of Canaan, are cursed.31 The accursed cannot unite in marriage with the blessed."32

9 So the servant placed his hand under the "thigh" of Abraham, his master, and swore to him regarding this.

Third Reading
Abraham wrote a document transferring ownership of all his property to Isaac, and gave it to Eliezer to show the prospective bride's family. Besides making Isaac into a very wealthy man, this proved Isaac's worth in Abraham's eyes, since left nothing for any of his other children. For both these reasons, the bride's family would be eager to have her marry Isaac.33

When Abraham wrote the document, he was faced with a quandary over how to date it. On the one hand, he did not want to use the date he wrote it, for that would transfer his estate to Isaac before it was necessary—since it is a seventeen-day journey from Hebron to Charan—and he knew that the Torah enjoins us to take prudent care of our wealth.34 On the other hand, he did not want to post-date the document, since doing so poses some legal problems,35 and he always took care to do everything in the most meticulous way possible. Abraham therefore opted to date the document with the date Eliezer left.36

The servant then took ten of his master's camels—which were distinguishable from camels belonging to other people by the fact that Abraham always muzzled them to prevent them from grazing in other people's fields—and a number of men with him, and set out, that same day,37 with the document listing all his master's wealth and affirming its transfer to Isaac in his hand. He rose up and made his way to Aram Naharayim ["Aram of the Two Rivers," i.e., between the Tigris and the Euphrates], to Charan, the city where Nachor, Abraham's brother, had settled.38 Although Nachor had not accompanied Terach and Abraham when they moved to Charan from Ur,39 he later followed them there.

Because Terach had been only a closet monotheist, he had not succeeded in instilling his beliefs in the members of his household. Most of his family members in Charan continued worshipping idols as in the past, although they were also aware of Abraham's monotheistic beliefs and paid them a certain amount of lip service. Rebecca, however, had precociously recognized the folly of idolatry and dedicated herself to the practice of monotheism and ethical behavior.

11 In consideration of Abraham's earnest desire to live according to the Torah's moral instructions not to part with one's wealth prematurely, God shortened the time required for the journey and Eliezer miraculously arrived in Charan on the same day as he had set out.40 As he arrived, Eliezer made the camels kneel outside the city near a well of water at evening time, when women go out to draw water.

12 He said: "O God, God of my master Abraham, arrange events for me this day such that You grant a favor to my master, Abraham.

13 Here I stand by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townsmen are coming out to draw water.

14 Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, 'Please tilt your pitcher so that I may drink,' and she replies, 'Drink, and I will also give water to your men41 and camels,' will be the one whom You have designated for Your servant Isaac. She will be a fitting match, because her demonstration of considerateness and generosity will prove that she is worthy of becoming a part of Abraham's household. Let her be from his family and a suitable companion for Isaac; thus I will know through her that You have acted kindly with my master."

15 He had not yet finished speaking when three-year-old42 Rebecca came out. She had been born to Bethuel, the youngest son of Milkah, the wife of Abraham's brother, Nachor. Her pitcher was on her shoulder.

16 The maiden was of beautiful appearance, yet she was still a virgin, whom no man had known carnally in any way. It was common practice at that time for even very young girls to engage in all types of licentious behavior while still taking care to retain the coveted status of virgin. Rebecca, however, was innocent even of this practice. She went down to the spring, and the water level rose as she approached, making it easier for her to fill her pitcher. Eliezer duly noted this miracle and concluded that the girl enjoyed this Divine aid because was righteous. She filled her pitcher, and came back up.

17 The servant ran toward her and said, "If you would, let me sip a little water from your pitcher."

18 She said, "Drink, sir," and quickly lowered her pitcher onto her hand and gave him a drink.

19 When she had finished giving him to drink, she said: "Let me draw water for your men and camels, too, until they have drunk their fill."

20 She quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough and ran to the well again to draw water, and she drew water for all his men and camels.

21 Seeing that Rebecca had performed precisely those acts that he had requested from God that she perform as a sign that she was a suitable wife for Isaac, the man wondered about her if she would also prove to be from Abraham's family. He thought silently to himself, wanting to know whether or not God had made his journey successful.

22 But his doubts were outweighed by the confidence he had in Abraham's merits and his reliance on Abraham's promise that God would prearrange success in advance.43 When the camels had drunk their fill, the man took a gold nose-ring weighing a beka (half a shekel: about 8 grams or 0.28 ounces, alluding to the half-shekel that Rebecca's descendants were to donate toward the building of the Tabernacle44) and two gold bracelets (alluding to the two tablets that Moses would receive at Mount Sinai) which weighed ten gold shekels (about 160 grams or 5.6 ounces, alluding to the Ten Commandments that would be engraved on the tablets) for her arms, and gave them to her, thereby engaging her to Isaac.

23 He said: "Whose daughter are you? If you would, tell me if there is room in your father's house for us to spend the night."

24 Answering his questions in the order in which he asked them, she said to him, "I am the daughter of Bethuel, son of Milkah, whom she bore to Nachor."

25 She then said, "We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as a place to spend many nights."

26 Hearing this, the man bowed his head and prostrated himself to God.

Fourth Reading
27 He said, "Blessed be God, God of my master Abraham, who has not withheld His kindness and truth from my master. God has guided me along the
right road, to the house of my master's brothers!"

28 The maiden ran to her mother's quarters and related these events.

29 Now Rebecca had a brother named Laban, who was also in his mother's quarters at the moment she came running in. Laban, who was a greedy fellow, heard Rebecca's description of what had just transpired. Hearing that Abraham's servant had arrived, he quickly removed the idols from the house. He then ran outside to the man, to the spring,

30 having seen the expensive nose-ring, and the costly bracelets on his sister's arms, and having heard the words of his sister Rebecca, saying, "This is how the man spoke to me," and having concluded that he was rich. He approached the man, who was still standing beside the camels and tending them, near the spring.

31 He said, "Come, you who are blessed by God! Why are you standing outside when I have cleared the house of idols and prepared a place for the camels?"

32 The man came into the house—into the men's quarters—and unmuzzled the camels. Laban gave the camels straw and fodder, and provided water for Eliezer and the men who were with him to bathe their feet.

33 Food was served, but Eliezer said, "I will not eat until I have spoken my piece."

Laban said, "Speak."

34 Eliezer began, "I am Abraham's servant.

35 God greatly blessed my master, and he prospered. He granted him flocks, cattle, silver and gold, servants and handmaids, camels and donkeys.

36 My master's wife Sarah bore my master a son after she had grown old, and he gave him all that he owned." At this point, Eliezer showed them the document attesting to this fact. He pointed out to them that the document bore that day's date, but hastened to add that Abraham had not post-dated it; rather, God had miraculously made him arrive the same day he set out in consideration of Abraham's desire not to post-date the document on the one hand, and not to relinquish his wealth before necessary, on the other.45

37 "My master bound me by an oath: 'Do not take a wife for my son from among the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live,

38 unless you first go to my father's house, to my family, select a wife for my son from among them, propose the marriage to her, and she refuses to come back with you.'

39 "I said to my master, 'In that case, in the end you will certainly approach me and ask me to give my daughter to your son as a wife, for the maiden whom I will choose from among your family members in Charan will certainly not agree to come back with me!'

40 But he said to me, 'God, before whom I have always walked, will send His angel with you and make your mission successful, and you will take a wife for my son from among my family members and from my father's house." Eliezer could not, of course, tell Bethuel and Laban that God had guaranteed him success in advance, so he only said that God promised to send His angel with him, rather than before him, as Abraham had said. He did, however, note that God had promised to "make his mission successful," hinting that it would be fruitless for Bethuel to attempt to oppose it.46

41 Only thus will you be free of my oath: If you approach my family and they do not give you a maiden, you will be released from my oath.'

42 "So I set out on my journey today, and, as I said, I miraculously arrived today at the spring, even though the journey from Hebron to here normally takes much more than one day. I said: 'O God, God of my master Abraham! If You will, crown this mission that I am undertaking with success.

43 Here I am, standing by the spring of water. Let it be that the maiden who comes out to draw water and to whom I will say, 'Please give me a little water to drink from your pitcher,'

44 and who will answer, 'Not only may you drink, but I will also draw water for your men and camels,' will be the wife destined by God for my master's son.'

45 "I had not yet finished speaking to myself, silently in my heart, and there was Rebecca coming out, with her pitcher on her shoulder. She went down to the well and drew water. I said to her, 'Please give me a drink.'

46 She immediately lowered her pitcher from her shoulder and said, 'Drink! I will also give water to your men and camels.' I took a drink, and she also gave my men and the camels water.

47 "I questioned her and said, 'Whose daughter are you?' She said, 'I am the daughter of Bethuel, son of Nachor, whom Milkah bore to him.' I then placed a ring in her nose, and bracelets on her arms." Actually, Eliezer had given her the jewelry before asking who she was, but he changed the sequence when he related the events to her brother and father so they wouldn't wonder how he could have given her gifts before he knew her identity.

48 I bowed low and prostrated myself to God. And I blessed God, God of my master Abraham, who led me on a true path to take the daughter of my master's brother for his son.

49 "Now, if you want to act in kindness and truth towards my master, tell me. If not, say so, and I will turn to the right, that is, southwest of my master's home, to seek a wife for my master's son from among the Ishmaelites, or to the left, that is, northeast of my master's home, to seek a wife from among the descendants of Lot."47

50 Laban and Bethuel answered, Laban disrespectfully responding before his father. Even though they were both personally opposed to the match, nevertheless they said: "This has all clearly come forth from God! We, therefore, cannot say anything to refuse you, neither in a bad, disrespectful manner, nor in a nice, reasonable, and polite manner."

51 Rebecca was not physically present among the men at the time, but they said, figuratively, "Rebecca is here in front of you; take her and go, and let her be a wife for your master's son, as God has spoken." They did not even bother to ask Rebecca if she agreed to marry Isaac; it was clear to them that this marriage was God's will, and it would come to pass no matter what.48

52 When Abraham's servant heard these words, he prostrated himself on the ground to God in thanksgiving for the good turn of events. Bethuel, at this point, had second thoughts about the match and was about to express his opposition to it.49 In order to prevent him from doing so, the angel accompanying Eliezer killed him.

Fifth Reading
53 The servant took out articles of gold and silver, as well as articles of clothing, and gave them to Rebecca.
Eliezer had planned to give gifts to the whole family, also, but because of Bethuel's sudden death, he gave delectable fruits from the produce of the Land of Israel—a rarity in that region50—only to her brother and mother.

54 He and the men who were with him then ate and drank. Eliezer and his men spent the night in their hosts' house.

When they rose in the morning, Eliezer said, "Give me leave to go back to my master with Rebecca."

55 Rebecca's brother and mother replied, "Let the girl remain with us for a year, for it is the custom in our country to give an engaged girl a full year to obtain the jewelry she will need as a married woman. On the other hand, you have already given her some jewelry; if you did this in order to help her prepare herself for marriage, then we estimate that she only needs another ten months to obtain the rest. But if the jewelry you gave her was intended merely as a gift, then she still needs the full twelve months. In any case, she can only go after she is fully prepared."

56 He said to them, "Do not cause me to tarry now that God has made my way prosper. Let me leave, so that I can go to my master. I have shown you the document attesting to the fact that Abraham bequeathed all of his wealth to Isaac; clearly, there is no need for her to obtain jewelry on her own!"

57 Laban and his mother were shocked by Eliezer's refusal to defer to local custom. When they consented to the match, they had assumed it was self-understood that local custom would be respected and abided by. They concluded that this new demand was of Eliezer's own invention—for there was not even a hint in all the miracles he reported on that implied that this was one of God's demands. (The fact that God had miraculously sped up his journey could simply mean that God wanted the match to be agreed upon as quickly as possible, and not necessarily that the marriage take place immediately.) This conviction led them, in turn, to doubt Eliezer's entire narrative, including the miracles he related and the document attesting to Isaac's inheritance of Abraham's wealth. Since they were no longer convinced that the match was Divinely ordained, there was now room to oppose it. On the other hand, they had no solid proof that Eliezer was lying; furthermore, they had seen that Bethuel had died when he was about to oppose the match, so they still thought it might be Divinely ordained. Therefore, they did not openly oppose the match. Rather, they said, "Let us summon the girl and ask her opinion, since a girl can not become engaged to someone without her consent."51 They did not even suggest that she be allowed to remain for the seven days of mourning for her father, since it was clear from Eliezer's insistence and his invocation of God's miraculous help to justify it that he wanted to leave with Rebecca immediately.52

58 They summoned Rebecca and said to her, "Do you want to go with this man now and marry his master's son?"

She said, "Yes, and I will go even if you do not give your consent."

59 So they bade farewell to their sister Rebecca, along with her former wet nurse, who now served as her escort, Abraham's servant, and his men.

60 They blessed Rebecca and said to her, "Our sister, God promised Abraham on Mount Moriah that his offspring would be innumerable and that they would take possession of their enemies' cities.53 Therefore, may you grow into thousands of myriads! And may your descendants take possession of the cities of their foes! May God's blessings be fulfilled only through you, and not through any other wife your husband may later take!"

61 Rebecca rose up with her maidens, and they rode on the camels, following the man. The servant thus took Rebecca and set out on his journey.

62 Isaac had just come from Be'er LaChai Ro'i, where he had gone to bring Hagar to his newly-widowed father, so he could remarry her. Until then, he had been living in the southern region, i.e., in or around Beersheba, but he now moved to Hebron.

63 Isaac went out to pray in the field towards evening, for in addition to following his father's custom of praying at the beginning of the day,54 he had initiated the practice of praying at the day's end, as well.55 He looked up, and he saw camels approaching.

64 When Rebecca looked up and saw Isaac, she was overwhelmed by his aura of holiness, and slid partway off the camel.

65 She said to the servant, "Who is this man walking towards us in the field?" The servant said, "That is my master." She then took her veil and covered herself.

66 The servant told Isaac all that he had done—stressing that he had fulfilled Abraham's mission devotedly and selflessly, in order to remove any doubt from Isaac's mind that the girl he brought him was indeed the one Abraham intended for him. As proof, he described all the miracles God had performed for him, including how he had miraculously arrived on the same day on which he had set out, and how Rebecca was already at the well56 before he finished his prayer.57

67 Nonetheless, all this did not suffice to convince Isaac that Rebecca was worthy to be his mother Sarah's successor.58 Therefore, Isaac brought Rebecca into the tent, placing his household's domestic affairs under her control. From the moment she assumed this role, it became clear that Rebecca was exactly like his mother Sarah, for the ongoing miracles that had occurred in Sarah's merit when she was alive59 once again resumed: the oil lamp Rebecca lit on Friday remained lit until the following Friday, even though it only held enough oil for one day; even a small amount of the bread she baked sufficed to satisfy hunger; and a cloud hovered above the tent. Seeing how she was blessed in these ways, Isaac became fully convinced that Rebecca was indeed worthy of being his mother Sarah's successor, and married Rebecca. She became his wife, and he loved her. Isaac was then consoled for the loss of his mother (see Figure 25).

Abraham Remarries Hagar

Sixth Reading
25:1 Abraham married
Hagar again after Sarah died. When he had married her the first time, her legal status had been that of a handmaid, but because he had granted her her freedom when he banished her,60 he was now remarrying her as a freewoman. Nonetheless, in deference to Sarah, he did not remarry Hagar as a full wife, but rather as a concubine, i.e., without the conditions of a marital contract. Hagar's nickname now was Keturah, alluding to the fact that, although she had at one point lapsed back into the idolatry of her Egyptian family,61 she had since repented,62 and her deeds were now as pleasing to God as the fragrance of incense (ketoret). This nickname also alluded to the fact that she had bound (katar) her reproductive organs ever since Abraham sent her away to ensure that no other man ever have relations with her.63 For both these reasons, Abraham did not hesitate now to remarry her.64

2 She bore him65 Zimran, Yakshan, Medan, Midian, Yishbak, and Shuach.

3 Yakshan was the father of Sheva and Dedan. The sons of Dedan became the leaders of the Ashurim, tent-dwellers who lived in tent-camps; Letushim, nomadic tent-dwellers who spread out in all directions; and Leumim, other nations.

4 The sons of Midian were Eifah, Efer, Chanoch, Avida, and Elda'ah. All these were Keturah's descendants.

5 Even though he had in the meantime fathered all these additional sons, Abraham gave all that he owned to Isaac, as related in detail above.66 In addition, he bestowed on him the gift of being able to bless others (which God had given Abraham67).

6 Abraham gave other, spiritual gifts to the sons of Hagar, the concubine68 whom Abraham had taken. He taught them how to manipulate the forces of impure spirituality. He also gave them all the material gifts he had received over time from various people and had not earned himself, including what he received from Pharaoh69 and Avimelech70 on account of the incidents with Sarah; since he did not receive these gifts directly from God, he did not wish to benefit from them. While he was still alive, he sent them eastward, to the east, away from his son Isaac. These progeny disseminated at least a diluted form of Abraham's spiritual legacy in their new homelands. Thus, Abraham's miraculously-restored virility enabled the non-Jewish populace to benefit from Isaac's birth just as Sarah's miraculous lactation did when she nursed their babies.71 Abraham also sent away Ishmael together with Hagar's other sons, but he returned some time before Abraham's death.72

Abraham's Death

7 These, then, are the days of the years of Abraham's lifetime. He lived 175 years. He retained the youthful virility that he had regained before conceiving Isaac until his final days, and he died completely righteous and untainted by sin.73

8 Abraham breathed his last and died in the year 2123, in good old age (seeing all his descendants remain loyal to his ideals, as he was promised74), mellow and content, and he was gathered to his people in the afterlife.

9 His sons—Isaac followed by Ishmael—buried him in the Cave of the Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Tzochar the Hittite, facing Mamre. Ishmael, in deference to Isaac's preeminent status in the family, respectfully allowed him to lead the burial procession.

10 The field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites is thus where Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried.

11 After Abraham died, God blessed Isaac, his son, in order to console him in his mourning over his father. Although God had granted Abraham the power to bless other people, Abraham himself was afraid to bless his son Isaac because he foresaw that Esau would come forth from him. Therefore, God Himself blessed Isaac, Abraham's son, with good health and longevity.75

Isaac lived in the vicinity of Be'er LaChai Ro'i. Ishmael, in the meantime, moved back to the Paran desert.76 After Abraham died, he was no longer protected by Abraham's merit and was harassed by his enemies.77

The Line of Ishmael

Seventh Reading
Having recorded Abraham's death, the Torah now describes how God fulfilled His promise of making Abraham's two principal sons into great nations.78

Abraham's offspring can be categorized into two distinct classes: the "highborn" sons—Isaac (from his wife Sarah) and Ishmael (from Hagar when she was Sarah's handmaid), and the "lowborn" sons—the sons he fathered with Hagar in her status of concubine. Both of Abraham's two "highborn" sons were righteous enough to remain part of his household (Isaac throughout his whole lifetime and Ishmael after he repented and was reinstated), whereas his "lowborn" sons had to be sent away.

In a similar fashion, Abraham's "highborn" progeny subdivided into two classes: the sons of Isaac followed in the footsteps of their grandfather Abraham's "highborn" sons, one choosing to remain in the fold and one founding a line that opted to sever itself from Abraham's spiritual heritage, whereas the descendants of his son Ishmael imitated the behavior of Abraham's "lowborn" sons by severing themselves from Abraham's spiritual heritage.

The Torah therefore now contrasts the family histories of Abraham's two "highborn" sons, beginning with that of Ishmael.79

The following are the descendants of Ishmael son of Abraham, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's handmaid, bore to Abraham.

13 These are the names of Ishmael's sons in order of their birth: Nevayot (Ishmael's first-born), Kedar, Adbe'el, Mivsam,

14 Mishma, Duma, Masa,

15 Chadad, Tema, Yetur, Nafish, and Kedmah (see Figure 26).

16 These were the names of Ishmael's sons, and these names were given as well to their open towns and their strongholds. There were twelve chieftains for their nations, in fulfillment of God's prophecy to Abraham that He would grant Ishmael greatness.80

17 These are the years of Ishmael's life: One hundred and thirty-seven years, when he breathed his last and died, in the year 2171, and was gathered to his people. The fact that Ishmael repented of his earlier wickedness did not suffice to bring his descendants up to par with those of his brother Isaac, neither in spiritual excellence nor in physical prowess. Isaac's son Jacob never suffered a lapse in righteousness during his entire lifetime, he retained his youthful physical strength well into adulthood,81 and he enjoyed all the advantages of pedigree (which Ishmael did not, because of his mother's servant-status). Ishmael therefore did not inherit the spiritual leadership from Abraham.82

18 Ishmael's descendants dwelled in the area between Chavilah and Shur, which borders on Egypt, all the way to Assyria. He dwelt throughout the area of all his brethren.