Shabbat Table Topics – Parashat Chayyei Sarah

Like Father, Like Son?

Often, readers picture Avraham as an active trailblazer, while Yitzchak is viewed as only a passive shadow, whose main contribution is being a link in the chain. Is this an accurate depiction?

  • What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of each character?
  • What are the main points of similarity and difference between the two?
  • Perhaps surprisingly, the stories of father and son are actually quite similar, and exploring the parallels helps a reader appreciate both the overlap between and the uniqueness of each leader.  See Avraham and Yitzchak for more.

What to Look for in a Spouse

Much of Parashat Chayyei Sarah revolves around finding A Wife for Yitzchak

  • What were Avraham's main criteria when choosing Yitzchak's spouse?  Was he looking for a woman who would share his belief system or someone who was of noble character?  Do you think it is more important that a spouse's religious observance and beliefs match your own or that s/he have good moral qualities?
  • If everyone was idolatrous at the time, why did Avraham have his servant travel all the way to Charan, rather than look for a wife closer to home? Was there something inherently troubling about the Canaanites, or was Avraham simply fearful that local in-laws would be more likely to have a negative influence on his son than those who lived far away? How much are you influenced by the values and actions of those around you?

A Portrait of Rivka

Bring several artistic renditions of Rivka at the Well to your Shabbat table.  Where does each artist stay true to the text and where do they veer from it?  What ambiguities or unknowns in the original narrative might they be drawing upon? 

  • With which depiction of Rivka do you most identify and why?
  • How old do you think Rivka was when she married Yitzchak?
  • Do you think of Rivka as a kindly young maiden or as a sophisticated, and perhaps even manipulative, adult?  How does her character evolve over the Bereshit narratives?

Avraham and Keturah

Bereshit 25 speaks of Avraham's marriage to Keturah and the sending away of the sons of his concubines:

  • Who is Keturah?  Many identify her with Hagar, and suggest that after Sarah's death, Avraham remarried this maidservant.  What would prompt such an identification? Can you think of other cases where an anonymous character is identified with a more well known one? See Avraham's Many Wives and Identifications for elaboration and examples. For an interactive module about this Midrashic technique, see Character Consolidation.
  • Why does Avraham send away his other sons?  Is this significantly different than the Banishment of Yishmael?  How might each event shed light on the other?  R. Medan1 explains that by sending his other sons "eastward", Avraham was trying to ensure that the Land of Israel would be buffered by friendly neighbors.  How do you think history would have differed had this worked as planned?  For elaboration and other approaches to their expulsion, see Avraham's Many Wives.


For more, see: Parashat Chayyei Sarah Topics.