Metaphors in the Torah: Chayei Sarah Part 2 (Genesis 23.1 - 25.18)


Illustration: Burial of Sarah
By Gustave Do're
So, just to review, in part 1 we concluded:


a) The name “Eve”, which in Hebrew means: “life”, is a metaphor for: “understanding” since, even in modern times, brain activity is the means used to determine whether or not a person is living.


(Thus, in the New Testament, the stories about “raising one up from death” means “eliminating all previous misconceptions and then introducing new ideas”).


b)  The Hebrew word for “animals” also shares the same root as the word for “life”, hence the “The Garden of Eden” and “Noah’s ark” were metaphors for “schools", "archives" or "monasteries" where those with “understanding” (i.e. “the animals/living ones”) attempted to reach higher levels of understanding.


Thus, Adam and Eve being “expelled from the garden” was equated with “death” and “a lower level of understanding”.


c)   We then spoke about Sarah being equated with the number: “127” and pointed out that the number: "12" was associated with “jealous struggles” based both on the translation of the name “Naphtali” and the fact that the 12 sons of Jacob, the 12 disciples of Jesus and the 12 God on Mt. Olympus were always engaged in jealous arguments.

The number: "10" is associated with the ten commandments, thus 10 X 12 = 120 and this suggests arguments about God's law. Accordingly, we said the life span of 120 years suggest that God is saying there is a limit to how much of these religious arguments based on jealousy he is willing to accept.


The number: “7” was associated with messages from God since Solomon spoke to the people from the 7th step of his throne and Joseph, the 7th son of Jacob, was associated with interpreting dreams sent by God.


Hence, our conclusion was that Sarah, whose beauty indicated the level of skill she had as a medium (Joseph was also described as very handsome), brought revelations to Abraham, but these revelations became a source of jealousy from people in contact with Abraham.      


Therefore, with the death of Sarah, we concluded that Abraham was now free to make new alliances and the people he chose to be united with were the Hittites


                           Chayei Sarah: Part 2



After Sarah dies Abraham “buys a field” from the Hittites and we have already discussed that: “the earth” and: “fields” are metaphors for: “schools”. We are also told that the field has: “trees” which we noted in other articles were: "sources of knowledge” (usually a religious teacher or a prophet) and that the field has: “a cave”, which we know from stories like Elijah and Mohammed, should be considered a symbol for: “a religious shrine” or: “sanctuary”.  (i.e. a cave represents “the mouth” of the mountain of knowledge).


So, in the case of Mohammed, the answer to the riddle is:


 “The mountain (of knowledge) came to Mohammed since Mohammed had a revelation while he was in a cave”.


Moses, on the other hand, “went” to Mount Sinai and ascended.


Since the name: “Sinai” means: “scholarship”, this suggests that Moses first had to attain a high level of understanding thru his own efforts, before God provided him with additional knowledge.


So, once again, I am not saying that studying in the yeshivas is a waste of time or that religious schools are irrelevant. Nevertheless, I am saying we must work/study for ONLY six days a week and on the Sabbath we must rest and allow God the opportunity to speak to us.


Accordingly, as the story of Moses suggests: we study in the yeshiva for six days, but on the seventh day we rest and God will provide the final pieces to the puzzle. The problem with Modern Day Judaism, however, is that on the Sabbath Jews do not stop studying…and they go to the synagogue to listen to the rabbis explain the Torah and the Talmud…


If all these interpretations are correct, then what we are seeing in this week’s Torah portion is that Abraham is merging his ideas with the Hittites.


Here it should be noted that “Zepron” the Hittite and “Uriah” the Hittite both have names which are associated with: “light” and this suggests the Hittites were a highly evolved spiritual people.

Apparently then, the death of Sarah represents the willingness of Abraham to give up some of his cherished beliefs and incorporate his religious ideas into one of the schools of thought of the Hittites.


In the commentary Vayeira we discussed the association between: “the number one hundred” and: “doubt”.


Since, in modern times, we have the expression: “not a shadow of doubt”, this replacing the doubt associated with Sarah’s revelation with the light associated with the names of the Hittites, might suggest a possible motive for Abraham’s acceptance of the Hittite’s religious ideas.  


Thus the name: “Machpelah”  means: “double”, which implies that: “the combining of two equal ideas”. At the same time it is also possible that this name suggests: “Abraham’s influence, as a result of coming to an understanding with the Hittites, has been doubled”.


Furthermore, even in modern times, the concept of “buying” is associated with: “accepting ideas” and one can hear quite often the phrase: “I don’t buy it”, when: “one rejects an idea”.


Since Abraham did indeed buy the field of the Hittites, this suggests he accepted some of their religious concepts into his own belief system. Thus, the cave of Machpelah is located in the city of: “Hebron” and this Hebrew name means: “alliance”.

The next issue to consider is the number four.  We have already discussed this number in relation to Yom Kippur, but it doesn’t hurt to review.


“Judah” is the fourth son of Jacob and his name means: “praise God”. We have already discussed that the number: “one hundred” is connected to: “the happiness of receiving a message from God”. Thus, in my opinion, the number: “four hundred” should be associated with: “convincing others to accept your religious ideas”.


Hence, in the Book of Esther we are told that the Amalikite: Haman was furious when Mordichai refused to accept his religious beliefs. “The Amalikites” are related to the number: “four hundred” because we are told that four hundred Amalikites escaped from the army of David on camels.


“Esau”, the brother of Jacob, is also associated with the number: “four hundred” because he arrives with 400 men and tries to convince Jacob to come “to live in his land” (i.e. to study in his school) and it is crucial to understand here that the Amalikites  are the descendants of Esau.


Probably the most important reference for the number: “four hundred” is that the Children of Israel will be: “slaves” in Egypt for four hundred years and in other articles we demonstrated that “slavery” is a metaphor for “being compelled to accept the ideas of another”.


What these three references suggest to me is that the number: “four hundred” should be associated with: “the mixing or joining together of religious ideas”. Hence, as we just mentioned, the name: “Hebron” means: “alliance”.


In the New Testament there is a parable about: “The Workers in the Vineyard”, basically, the parable deals with how much money they will be paid, but the crucial point is that in the time of the 2nd temple there was a famous religious school located at Yavne and the scholars there referred to this school as: “The Vineyard”.


If “a vineyard” represents: “a religious school” and: “work” is a metaphor for: “study”, then “money” would represent: “teachings” or: “knowledge”.


Thus, Abraham paying “four hundred silver shekels” is a metaphor and it implies that Abraham “gave a religious lecture to the Hittites in order to demonstrate that he was qualified to take over and operate the Hittite school”.


The last issue we shall discuss for this week’s Torah portion is: Who will replace Sarah?


Upon the death of Sarah, what then is needed are two replacements: a wife to replace the mother of Isaac and a new wife for Abraham. The interesting point about the search for Rebecca is that the slave Abraham sends selects ten camels, but nothing is mentioned about the men who go with him until almost the very end of the story. One would think that both the Old and New Testaments, being centered in the Middle East, would have many stories about camels, but, except for the story of Joseph, these animals are hardly mentioned at all.

(Actually, some scholars now suggest that during the time Abraham was supposed to have lived, there were no camels in the Middle east and that this symbol was incorporated into the story later on).


In order to understand the significance of the camels in the story of Rebecca, it is important to remember that Joseph came to Egypt with: “a caravan of spices” and that Pontiphar is described in the Torah as: “a cook” (The translations saying he was captain of the guards are incorrect).


The other important point is that the Hebrew word for: “meat” is the root for the word for: “preaching” and “gospels”. Thus:


“Joseph arriving with spice laden camels made the meats of Egypt more palatable (i.e. Joseph really knew how to spice up a religious sermon)”.


All this is extremely important in relation to Rebecca, because later we are told that Isaac loved the meat of his son Esau and it is Rebecca who prepares the goat’s meat which helps persuade Isaac to bless Jacob.

Thus, “Rebecca”, like Joseph, is associated with: “camels” because: “she knows how to make meat taste better” (i.e. “she knows how to present difficult religious concepts in a more palatable manner”).

Furthermore, since we have already mentioned the connection between the number: “ten”, “wine” and “spiritual happiness” we can then see that the idea of Rebecca being a spiritual medium is reinforced since “ten camels” were sent to bring her to Isaac.

Finally, since “the Ark of the Covenant at first will be housed in a tent”, there is absolutely no doubt as to what the function of Rebecca will be, since we are told after arriving she is immediately ushered into “the tent of Sarah”.

Another important element of the story of Rebecca is: “water”. Moses said that: “his words” were like: “a heavy rain” and, basically, Moses told his father in law that: “his function was to explain the laws of God”. Therefore, “water” becomes a metaphor for: “religious explanations” and there are several references in the Old Testament to the Israelites: “forsaking the living waters” and to: “broken cisterns which hold no water” (we have already discussed the connection between “living” and “understanding”, hence “living waters” is a metaphor for: “explanations based on, or containing, understanding”).

What also has to be understood here is that we mentioned that Adam worked in the Garden of Eden and we said this meant that Adam was a scholar in the archive. The Torah, however, also says that at first there was: “no rain” because there were: :no men to tend the garden”. Thus “rain was created to help men”; men were not created to serve the rain.

All these references then explain why the slave of Abraham wanted to see whether or not Rebecca would give water to his camels (In other words: He could have asked God that Rebecca give grass to the camels as a sign, but he selected water because of its religious significance) .

Let’s switch now to Abraham’s wife/concubine: “Keturah” (one place she is described as a wife and then later as a concubine)


I would just like to state here that I do not agree with the scholar known as “The Rashi” that Keturah and Hagar were one and the same person.


Basically, Hagar would have been at least seventy years old at the time of Sarah’s death, but in addition to this the Torah clearly lists the descendants of Keturah and Ishmael is not included. Finally, Keturah’s children were not present at Abraham’s funeral, but Ishmael was present. So, if Hagar was indeed Keturah, why was only this son granted special status?


The name: “Keturah” means: “incense” and this implies that she was: “a source of inspiration” for Abraham.

Since she “only” gives birth to six sons, however, this suggests that there is no connection with the ideas of Keturah and the Sabbath (i.e. Keturah’s beliefs and teachings, like Leah’s six sons, should be associated with the six days of work).

This is why her sons do not share in the inheritance of Isaac, who should be associated with revelations from God and the number seven (we discussed in previous articles that Joseph, as the first son of the second wife, should be considered the seventh son of Jacob).

This week’s Torah portion also raises two important questions:


1) Why is there space in this week’s portion to repeat the entire story of: “Rebecca and the water”, yet there is no place in the Torah to mention a procedure for conversion?


2) How is it possible that seven of Abraham’s own sons were expelled from the house of Abraham and were given no share in Isaac’s inheritance, yet the rabbis believe that they can convert gentiles and make them one of the Children of Israel? (What is crucial to understand here is that Moses said the inheritance of Israel was the Torah. Since rabbis generally teach converts the Talmud and not the Torah, this implies they are not really sharing the inheritance of Israel).


Regardless, all the examples we have discussed seems to clearly indicate that the theme of this week’s Torah portion is about accepting new ideas and new sources of knowledge….


Dror Ben Ami is the author of the book: THE MISUNDERSTANDING: An Introduction to Metaphors, Images and Symbols Found in the Old and New Testaments.