The end of the beginning, and the beginning of the promise happen in this Parashah. Abraham and Sarah, the beginning of the Jewish faith, both die in this parashah, and between the passing of Sarah and Abraham, Isaac is married to Rivkah (Rebekah) and it is through his progeny that we have the founding of both the 12 tribes of Israel and also the nations of the Arab people (In Gen. 25:23 God tells Rebakah she has two nations in her womb.)
The burial cave of Abraham is in Hebron, a very dangerous place for Jews to visit as the majority of Hebron is Arab controlled, with a few Jewish settlements. I have been told by people who have made multiple visits to Israel that, as sad as it is, a place so important to Judaism is so dangerous to see that most Jews going to Israel will not be able to visit it.
The Chumash (a “Chumash” is a commentary of the 5 books of Moses, the Torah, as well as the Haftarah readings. The one I have is the Soncino edition, and was a present from my Reform Temple when I had my Bar Mitzvah) states that when Sarah died the blessings and pious customs of the Patriarch stopped, and were not re-initiated until Rebekah came into the tent. This is understandable because the wife is the one in charge of the household. The Father is the leader of the family, but the wife is, traditionally, the one who runs the house.
Here is an excerpt from the chabad.org website which describes the role of the Jewish wife (I bold printed explanations I have added):
She has been entrusted with, and is completely in charge of, the kashrut (ceremonial cleanliness) of the foods and beverages that come into her kitchen and appear on the dining table. She has been given the privilege of ushering in the holy Shabbat by lighting the candles on Friday, in ample time before sunset. Thus she actually and symbolically brightens up her home with peace and harmony and with the light of Torah and mitzvot (laws, as well as good deeds). It is largely in her merits that G-d (many Jews will not misuse God’s name, even in the spelling of it) bestows the blessing of true happiness on her husband and children and the entire household. This is the great task and mission which G–d gave to Jewish women – to observe and disseminate the observance of Taharat Hamishpachah (Laws of the Family) and of the other vital institutions of Jewish family life. For besides being the fundamental mitzvot and the cornerstone of the sanctity of Jewish family life, as well as relating to the well-being of the children in body and soul, these pervade and extend through all Jewish generations to eternity.
Too often we hear people tell of the misogyny of the bible, but in truth both in the New and Old Covenants, woman are respected and honored. The problem people have with the bible is the separation of the roles of men and women. That would be, in my opinion, like saying (I really don’t like sports analogies, but have to admit they often work really well) the pitcher of a baseball team should also play in the outfield, and the catcher should be allowed to pitch. If you are not familiar with baseball, this is a ridiculous thought, since each of these positions are unique in the skills needed. True, there may be someone talented enough to pitch well and play the outfield, but you can’t do both at the same time, or do both interchangeably and do each one well. The wife has her role, the husband his role, and when they work together they can achieve something impossible to achieve when everyone does the same thing- that is called synergy. Synergy is defined as when the total is greater than the sum of its parts.
In my world, the world of technology, we need to have anti-virus programs to protect our data. However, if you have two anti-virus programs running simultaneously (both checking every single data stream, both reading through every file for something unusual, both tracking and dissecting every attempt to read or change anything on the hard drive), instead of having twice the efficiency, what happens is that you can’t get anything done! The computer resources are so over-worked that even opening a web site takes longer, editing a Word document takes a lifetime, and you end up with less productivity than if you had no anti-virus running at all. Now, if you have an anti-virus program and you supplement it with an anti-malware program, which doesn’t interfere with the anti-virus but adds to its effectiveness by checking things the anti-virus doesn’t, now you have a synergistic effect.
This is what we want in the Jewish home. Actually, in every home there should be the proper separation of roles that husband and wife play so they can show their children how well people can get along when they are different, have different things that they do, and work together as a team.
When Sarah died, a very important team member of the family was missing, so that role, that position on the field (so to speak), was left unoccupied. When Rivkah (Rebekah) joined the family (in Hebrew, family is “Mishpachah”) that role was again filled. Hence, the blessings that the wife provides within the family unit returned to Isaac and Abraham.
This is what is so wonderful about the bible- you read about Sarah dying and with the appropriate commentary and understanding of the cultural and historical context, you receive a message that is not directly given in the text. We read about Sarah’s death and then Isaac took his new wife into his mother’s tent, indicating that Rebekah took over the role of Sarah, and with that the family was once again made whole and the blessings available that are based on the role of the wife returned to the Patriarch.
How do you distribute the responsibilities in your home? Are they seen as a burden or as a blessing? Does the husband help the wife and the wife help the husband, or do you both just do what you want to do? I clean the dishes because Donna usually does the cooking, and since I will be retiring at the end of this year I will be able to cook more often and when I do, Donna will clean up. Donna does most of the outside gardening, and I do most of the heavy lifting and work in the yard. We know that we each have our own duties to perform as a team, which doesn’t mean we always do the same things but that we do what we each need to do and work together to accomplish getting everything done; we each work within our best skill sets. It may not be “perfectly biblical” with regards to what we each do, but it is biblical in that we each have our own role to play and we are responsible to do what we are supposed to do for , as well as with, each other.
Don’t let the world’s view rule your life. The world says that everyone should be the same, everyone gets the same treatment, and that everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want to: C’mon, let’s get real!- having the right to do whatever you want to do doesn’t mean you have the ability. The truth is that we are all different, blessed with talents that are meant to serve the Lord (not ourselves) and when we use the gifts God gave us to serve Him and each other, then we will live such a blessed existence that heaven will almost appear to be anti-climatic!
Treat each other with respect, work together to achieve synergy, do what you are supposed to do before you worry about what the other person is supposed to do, and if that person needs help, then help. Teamwork is not doing something for someone else, it is doing what you are supposed to do and then, if the other person needs help, supplementing their duties. That is how you achieve synergy, and I believe God wants us to be synergistic in our relationships with each other and with Him.