Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Parashat Hayye Sarah
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
Prepared for Internet
Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Parashat Hayye Sarah 5761/ 25 November 2000
Gender and Inheritance
Prof. Ora (Rodrigues) Schwarzwald
Department of Hebrew and Semitic Languages
This week we read Hayye Sarah, and a passage from I Kings 1:1-31 for
the haftara. First I shall discuss several matters having to do with
gender in the parasha and the haftara, then I shall deal with
other comparisons and contrasts between the Torah portion and the selection from
In comparison to the general level of involvement of women in Scriptures,
in this week's readings women play quite considerable roles. A sampling of
biblical names in Mandelkern's Concordance shows that only about seven percent
of names in the Bible are those of women. In our parasha, situation is quite
different: the names of many men are mentioned in the Torah portion due to the
lists of the descendants of Keturah and Ishmael, but if we look at the figures
who actually play an active in this week's reading, we find one-third women and
two-thirds men: Sarah, Rebecca, her mother, and Keturah, in comparison with
Abraham, Efron, Abraham's servant, Laban, Bethuel, Isaac and Ishmael. In the
haftara as well several men's names are mentioned in connection with the
coronation of Adonijah son of Haggith, but when one compares the number of
active women with men the ratio is about the same as we saw: Abishag and
Bathsheba in comparison with David, Adonijah and Nathan. This is not the usual
ratio found in Scriptures.
This is also the only parasha whose name mentions a woman: Hayye
Sarah. The names of all the other weekly readings are either common nouns
or verbs, except for another five proper nouns denoting men after whom the
reading is named: Noah, Jethro, Korah, Balak and Phinehas.
There are entire readings in which women play no role at all, nor are they
mentioned. When the children born to a certain father are listed, only his sons
are named. One wonders how it could be, statistically, that all these men had
only male children?! Of course this has to do with the biblical notion of
inheritance, but that is not our concern at the moment.
When are a person's daughters mentioned in the genealogy? When something
will happen to them later on in the biblical narrative (e.g., Rebekah, Dinah,
the daughters of Zelophehad). Nor are the names of the mothers of major figures
important in the biblical narrative. Important people's fathers are generally
mentioned, but not the names of their mothers. When is a mother's name given?
When a father has several sons by different women, as in our reading: Rebekah
daughter of Bethuel, who was also the granddaughter of Milcah, wife of Abraham's
brother Nahor (since Nahor also had a concubine named Reumah, who bore him other
sons); Abraham's son Ishmael, who was the son of Sarah's maidservant Haggar.
Likewise in the haftara: Adonijah son of David, born to him by
Scriptures also mention women who played specific roles (Tamar in Genesis,
Deborah and Jael in Judges, etc.), although not always by name. For example, we
do not know the names of the women whom Elisha helped (according to the
narrative told in the haftara which we read last week): one was the wife
of one of the disciples of the prophets and the other, the famous woman from
Shunam, called the Shunammite, although that was not her name.
The women explicitly mentioned in this week's reading are figures around
whom the story line revolves: Sarah, who passed away and was buried; Rebekah,
who was found to be a kind-hearted, well-bred maiden, modest but with a mind of
her own; Rebekah's mother, whose name is unknown and whose voice is heard only
in conjunction with Laban's -- "But her brother and her mother said, 'Let the
maiden remain with us some ten days; then you may go'" (24:55); and Keturah,
whom Abraham married after Sarah's death and after his son had married Rebekah.
It is interesting to speculate whether Keturah was indeed the same as Haggar, as
the Midrashim believe. The woman mentioned here goes by another name, and there
is no indication in the parasha itself that she is the same as Haggar the
Egyptian, mother of Ishmael. Haggar and Milcah are mentioned in the reading
only as the mothers of Ishmael and Bethuel, and the nursemaid who accompanies
Rebekah is mentioned only by her function and not by any other
The haftara, as we said, mentions Abishag the Shunammite, who was
taken to wait on David and warm his bed, and Bathsheba who takes action to
assure that Solomon will inherit the throne as promised. Haggith is mentioned
only as the mother of Adonijah.
Thus we see that this week's readings from the Torah and the Prophets are
special both in that they mention a relatively greater number of women relative
to men in comparison with the usual ratio in Scriptures, and in that the women
appearing in these readings are mentioned by virtue of their actions.
And now to a look at the parasha and haftara: several
subjects are brought up in this week's reading: Sarah passes from the world at
the age of 127 and is buried in the Cave of Machpelah, after negotiations to
purchase the cave from the Hittites; Abraham, in his old age, sees to the
continuation of the family and sends his servant to Aram-Naharaim to find a
fitting wife for his son Isaac; the servant succeeds in his mission and brings
Rebekah back to be Isaac's wife; Abraham marries Keturah and has more sons by
her, who do not inherit from him; Abraham passes away at age 175 and is buried
in the Cave of Machpelah by Isaac and Ishmael; at the end of the portion also
the death of Ishmael, at age 137, is reported.
The haftara tells about David's old age. He is advanced in years,
and Abishag the Shunammite is brought to him to serve him and keep him warm;
Adonijah son of Haggith crowns himself king, but Nathan the prophet intervenes
and brings in Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, so that David can settle the issue of
who will inherit the throne. David promises the throne to Solomon, and indeed
the kingship passes to him while David is yet alive.
The stories in this week's readings from the Torah and the Prophets deal
with heroes in their old age: Abraham and David, two dominant and important
figures in their times, had grown old. Each is said to be "advanced in years":
"Abraham was now old, advanced in years" (Gen. 24:1), and "King David was now
old, advanced in years" (I Kings 1:1). Since it is clear to all that neither
one will live forever, in both stories there is concern about the future and the
continuation of the line. This, however, is where the similarity ends.
Abraham, in his old age, saw to finding a worthy wife for Isaac in his
lifetime, and therefore sent his servant to Aram-Naharaim so that his son would
not marry a local Canaanite woman. His son Ishmael, son of Haggar, he had
already sent off together with his mother, at the behest of his wife Sarah,
while she was yet alive. He gave all that he had to Isaac, as it is said,
"Abraham willed all that he owned to Isaac" (Gen. 25:5), but also cared for the
sons of Keturah: "but to Abraham's sons by concubines Abraham gave gifts while
he was still living, and he sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the
land of the East" (v. 6). Thus by his own initiative Abraham put all matters of
inheritance in order before his death.
David, in contrast, is seen in all his weakness. Scripture hints at his
shortcomings as a father in mentioning of Adonijah son of Haggith that "his
father had never scolded him: 'Why did you do that?'" (I Kings 1:6). He
remained secluded in his home because of his old age, cut off from events in his
kingdom and even unaware of the intrigues taking place outside his house. Only
the joint stand of Nathan the prophet and Bathsheba, arranged at the prophet's
initiative, caused him to see to orderly designation of an heir. Bathsheba,
mother of Solomon, came to David, with the prophet Nathan following on her heels
and reinforcing her words. Both told David about the plot to steal the crown
from Solomon, for Adonijah had coronated himself. Consequently David indeed
decided to take action to assure the line of succession: he swore to Bathsheba
that her son would be king, and later on in the chapter he gave explicit
instructions for crowning Solomon in his lifetime.
Thus, Abraham himself took the initiative to arrange all the details of
inheritance, whereas David saw to his inheritance only in response to outside
Prepared for Internet Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.