Chayyeh Sarah: Camels and Community

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Chayei Sarah

Good morning!

Well, here’s hoping everybody goes to the gym, or gets their favorite form of
exercise, on the day between the big American feast (Thanksgiving) and our weekly Shabbat
treats (even if you’re just beginning a Shabbat practice, go get some Shabbat treats
for yourself- you deserve it, every week!)

Our parsha this week is Chayyeh Sarah, the “life of Sarah,” which famously
begins with her death and burial in Hebron. Avraham sends his helper, Eliezer, to find a wife
for Yitzhak; he finds Rivka by noticing how kindly she treats him and his animals. Avraham
marries again, and there are genealogies of the various families. Avraham dies, and is
buried with Sarah in Hebron by his two sons, Yitzhak and Yismael.

Well, after a few weeks of heavy-duty emails from me, I think it’s time to be a
bit lighter in our choice of topics, so our subject for Torah study will be. . . . .camels.
Well, more precisely, how one dresses one’s camel when going out on the town- a topic which
I’m sure is very relevant to most of you reading this.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, camels are a key player in this week’s
parsha; when Avraham sends Eliezer off to find a wife for Yitzhak, Eliezer loads the camels
for the trip, and it’s when Rivka gives water to the camels that he knows she’s a person of
kindness and generosity. (In other words, how one treats animals is a clear sign of one’s

Rashi notices something interesting about these camels, so let’s look at the

” And the servant took ten camels of his master’s camels, and he went, and all
the best of his master was in his hand; and he arose, and he went to Aram naharaim, to the
city of Nahor. . . . ” (Bereshit/ Genesis 24:10)

Here is Rashi’s comment- see if you can figure out what his question is from his commentary:


“of his master’s camels. . .

` They were distinguishable from other camels by the fact that they would go out muzzled
to prevent robbery, that they should not graze in strangers’ fields.’ ”

Got it? Rashi’s problem is the extra detail: “his master’s camels.” Why does the Torah need
to say that the servant loaded up “his master’s camel?” Would those camels have
belonged to anybody else?

Now you understand why he provides an answer from earlier midrashic texts: the
Torah is hinting that Avraham’s camels were indeed different- or treated differently-
than other people’s animals. Avraham muzzled his camels so that they would not graze in
other people’s fields; not only is this good manners, but Rashi says that to do
otherwise would be “robbery,” which is just the action of taking anything that belongs to
someone else.

OK, so what do we do with this, especially if we don’t have camels parked in the
driveway? To me, the lesson is: even the busiest or most important person- is not exempt
from the obligations of community, which include always thinking about the needs and
boundaries of the people around you. You might recall that in the previous parshiot,
Avraham had some clashes with neighboring kings- perhaps he’s learned the lesson that living
in peace means being truly thoughtful in one’s “neighborliness.”

Do we let our camels graze on our neighbors fields? Well, no, but I’m guessing
there isn’t a person reading this who would not benefit from some reflection on how we
respect the time, feelings, honor, property, and well-being of the people we meet on a daily
basis. The rabbis saw in a simple act of animal husbandry a whole philosophy of living
in community- it’s not about the camels, per se- it’s about loving your neighbor as
yourself. In other words, the most practical action can (should!) reflect our deepest
spiritual ideals- and that, in a few words, is what Judaism is all about.

Shabbat Shalom,


PS- As usual, you can find the Torah and haftarah in translation here, along
long with a
commentary by my dear friend and teacher R. Larry Troster- it’s a good read:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: