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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Chayei Sara

Parashat Chayei Sara

You Are a Prince of G-d in our Midst

Rabbi Yossef CarmelChayei Sara 5766
3650
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Going through Sefer Bereishit, we get to glimpse at our patriarchs and matriarchs through the various episodes that appear. How should we view them? Should we look at them as heads of a family, which only hundreds of years later emerged as a nation, after the exodus from Egypt? Or should we look at them as princes and noblemen during their lifetimes? At first glance, the Torah tells the patriarchs’ story as individuals who were nomads for much of their lives. Famine made them wander to Egypt and to the Land of the P’lishtim, where they were at the mercy of the local populations and leaders. Prominent among the issues they dealt with were barrenness and the difficulties of raising children. These all seem like the troubles of the individual and the family.

However, a second, deeper look shows that the patriarchs did not just act as individuals. Most of their interactions were with monarchs and noblemen of their time, and they often interacted with them as leaders in their own right. Avraham engaged in a long discourse with Paroh in Egypt and emerged with the upper hand (Bereishit 12). Later on he took part in the struggle of nine of the leading kings of the time in a major world war. In its aftermath, he had discussions with the King of S’dom and Malkitzedek, the King of Shalem (Bereishit 14). Avraham continued his "diplomacy" with Avimelech, the King of G’rar. Yitzchak interacted prominently with Avimemlech, King of P’lishtim. Yaakov negotiated with Chamor, "the prince of the land," and in his old age was an honored guest of Paroh, king of the world’s only superpower.

There are signs of nobility in regard to the matriarchs, as well. Just look at their names. Sarah’s name can be translated as "nobility," and her sister as "queen." She is described as the gevira, a term used elsewhere in Tanach for the king’s mother or wife (see Melachim I, 11:19; II, 29:2; Yirmiya 29:2 and more). The midrash tells us that Hagar was the daughter of Paroh, who decided that it was worthwhile for her to serve as a servant in the house of Avraham and Sarah. A lesser-known midrash states that Avimelech likewise sent his daughter to them (Bereishit Rabba 45). The simple reading of the Torah also indicates that Keturah, who married Avraham in his old age, was a princess, whose descendants went on to be princes of different tribes. The fact that Avraham was able to wage war with a force of over 300 soldiers is a sign that his entire entourage must have been in the thousands, as the Rambam (Avodah Zara 1:3) states. Based on all of these indications, we see that when the people of Chet refer to Avraham as a "prince of G-d" in our midst, it was not simply flattery, but a reflection of Avraham’s local and even international status. et us pray that we will merit having leaders who can act as the princes of our past, the righteous patriarchs and matriarchs, did.

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