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D’var Haftarah Chaye Sarah

Defence of the ego is a symptom of weakness; not being defensive (like silence) is a symptom of strength. Here is this week’s D’var Haftarah:

D’var Haftarah Chaye Sarah
Bat Sheva and Chosenness
Bex Stern Rosenblatt

The parallel between Abraham and David is obvious – both of them are founders, creators of something new. Abraham is the first Hebrew, the founder of our people. David is the first king in Jerusalem, founder of a dynasty and a political entity. And yet, as is the case for so many founders, it is unclear whether the projects they create will outlive them. Abraham is driven by his need for a successor. David spends much of his adult life failing to manage succession among his sons. The question driving the Abraham story, the David story, and indeed much of the Tanakh, including Torah: (‘Teaching’), also known as the Five Books of Moses, Nevi’im: (‘Prophets’), and Ketuvim: (‘Writings’), is how does this project continue – how do we pass our inheritance from generation to generation.

The answer to this question in this week’s parasha and this week’s haftarah, 1 Kings 1:1-31, can be found in the secondary characters, Abraham’s servant and Bat Sheva. The story of Rebecca coming to Canaan is bizarre. At sixty-seven verses, longer than most biblical stories, the story focuses on Abraham’s unnamed servant, usually identified as Eliezer from Genesis 15, Abraham’s servant and potential heir. By this point, he is no longer in the running for succession from Abraham. Rather, he is sent to find a wife to continue the line through the chosen successor, Isaac. What’s more, his name is no longer even worth mentioning. He becomes someone through whom the project of the Jewish people passes, but not someone we remember. (For a very interesting alternative take, check out Perry, Menakhem. “Counter-Stories in the Bible: Rebekah and her Bridegroom, Abraham’s Servant.” Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History27.2 [2007]: 275-323). However, for this one story, this one link in the continuity of the Jewish project, he is absolutely necessary.

Likewise, in 1 Kings 1, Bat Sheva steps out of the shadows to ensure the project is passed on. As her husband, the king, lies incapacitated on his bed and the political future of the nation hangs in the balance, Bat Sheva grows verbose. She speaks the exact words necessary to convince her ailing husband of the course of action necessary to save her, her son, and the nation. Although Nathan the prophet has instructed her what to say, Bat Sheva uses her particular knowledge to change her speech and achieve the necessary goal.

Why is it that secondary characters such as Abraham’s servant and Bat Sheva ensure the passing down of our inheritance from generation to generation? The answer lies in our relationship with chosenness. It is difficult to understand why Abraham was chosen by God to start our people. The same is true for David. Most of all, we struggle to understand our role as the chosen people, wondering what it is that makes us special, that makes us better. These are the questions of the founders, of people like Abraham and David, who start the project and wonder why they merited to start it. More useful is to look at these stories of secondary characters. Bat Sheva and Abraham’s servant understood at the core of their beings that they were dealing with something larger than themselves. When we take our ego out of chosenness and consider rather how we can act as part of a larger whole, we are able to achieve continuity of that inheritance, something worth being chosen for.


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