From tent to sacred domain

Rabbi Neal Rose

By Rabbi Neal Rose

Inter-generationality is the major theme of this week’s Torah reading, Chayei Sarah.  The narrative begins with the death and burial of our matriarch, Sarah.  It then continues highlighting the marriage of Isaac and Rebeccah, the inheritors of the teachings of father Abraham and mother Sarah. 

The long and detailed story of Sarah’s death and burial attests to her importance in the Biblical imagination.  The tale of the arranged marriage between Isaac and Rebeccah, indicates that Rebeccah was a truly worthy successor to her mother-in-law, Sarah (We are so privy, in this segment, as to how well vetted she was).

The courtship of Isaac and his bride Rebeccah reaches its climax in the following way: “And Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah, his mother, and Rebeccah became his wife. And he loved her, and Isaac was consoled after his mother’s death.”  As modern biblical translator and commentator Robert Alter points out, “Rebeccah fills the emotional gap left by Sarah’s death…(she) takes up the role of the matriarch in the family.”

The Midrashic imagination (as well as the commentator Rashi) provides intriguing descriptions detailing the transformation of Rebeccah from a young bride, to the wife of Isaac, and finally to a matriarchal figure. We are told that as long as Sarah was alive by her home was surrounded by a divine aura, and her Challah dough was blessed, and that the glow of the Shabbat candles permeated the home with a mysterious light – a light that continued throughout the week.  I have loved this Midrash ever since I first heard it, many years ago.  It speaks to me of how a physical structure can be transformed from a house (or a tent) into a home filled with love and Divine light.

Access MO advertisement

Ever since Carol and I began to build our family together, the promise of this mystical story has become a lived reality.  Every Shabbat eve I wait for the moment when Carol lights the candles.  As her hands scoop up the light and she sings the blessing (whispering prayers of her own) I feel myself transported to Sarah and Rebeccah’s magical home.  It is as if our home, our tent, has become a Mishkan, a life-space filled with a very sacred flame.

The prayers, dreams and tears that accompany those candle lighting moments have carried us (and our loved ones) through many trials and tribulations.  They have filled our hearts, and they have strengthened us.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Carol – you are a harbinger of light and love.  And I would like to reference this week’s portion in order to praise the holy works of your hand.

Rabbi Neal Rose serves Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.