Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chayeh Sarah The Valuable Lesson of Camels

Chayeh Sarah    The Valuable Lesson of Camels

Eliezer on his camel?
            Have you ever given thought to the important role that camels played in the Bible. Thus camels are used by the wandering Midianites who bring Joseph to Egypt and again camels are used by the Midianite enemies of Israel in the time of Gideon. But in our Torah portion, the camel is a very important element for it is at the core of the great test of  the bride for Isaac.

            There is an unusual tidbit about the origins of the camel at least according to Bedouin legend.
            “The Bedouin of Arabia have a strange legend about the origins of the camel. According to them, it was the Jews, not the Bedouins who had camels first in antiquity. The legend says that the Jews lived in the mountains of the Hijaz, while the Bedouins lived in the deserts.”   The Bedouins were lost …. Until “ they came to a plain where the Jews lived.
            “When they came to the plain, surrounded by hills, they discovered the many tents of the Jews. In front of the tents were strange animals that the Bedouin had never seen before. These were camels, known to the Bedouin as al-vil. The Bedouins hid until sunrise and then attacked the Jews in the early morning by surprise. The Jews fled by every possible means, and with them, they took their female camels. The Bedouin then chased the group of Jews, defeated them, and took their female camels. Since that time the Jews have had no camels to raise, and instead became farmers or tenders of sheep and goats. “
            The legend continues to say that the Jews would put out buckets of water, hoping to draw the camels back to them.” From this story the ancient Bedouin proverbs developed for something one does not expect to attain or achieve, rajw al-hihuud min al-bil. or "the Jews hope for the camels." (http://nabataea.net/camel.html)

            This curiosity tells us that while the Arabs may be angry at the Jews for stealing Arab land, we have a claim against them for stealing our camels!
            Bible critics have had a heyday with camels because archaeological evidence seemed to indicate that camels weren’t used intensively till the ninth century before the common era. Thus they claim that the writers of the Bible use the word gamal, camel, only because that’s what the audience knew, like saying “ car” for a story about horse and buggy times. However, the story of Gideon fighting the Midianites really makes sense only in describing people who knew and used the camel for warfare and that account predates the time set by these archaeologists by two centuries. Even more, newer archaeological evidence do show references to camels and pictures of people riding camels in Mesopotamia dating back to the time of Abraham. That evidence puts the camel back into play in our account!
            We have this popular and well known story of Abraham sending his trusted servant, Eliezer of Damascus, to his home town of Haran to find a wife for his son.  In the Bible, the well is core of civil life. In a world without water faucets, no bottled water, and no canned coke, getting water plays a central role in society and becomes a metaphor for all that sustains life. Therefore, Eliezer will meet Rebecca at the well, a generation later Jacob will meet Rachel at the well, and then Moses will meet Zipporah at the well. Clearly, the well is eHarmony or JDate of its day. It is also extensively used as a metaphor for the spiritual nourishment needed— U Shavtem Mayim be  Sason,” You shall draw water with joy,” Mi Maayanei Hayeshua, “From the fountains of salvation”.(Isaiah 12:3)
            Let’s ask ourselves now. Why did Abraham go out of his way to send for a bride from his homeland? Was it just that he wanted his boy to marry into his faith? After all his family was not Jewish; they were all idol worshipers while he was the lone monotheist in the group. .
            Why would he not have his son marry one of the local Canaanite women? After all he had developed some friendly relations with the locals as it was shown just a chapter before when he negotiated with the people of Hebron for a burial place for Sarah. Did he look down on the Canaanites as racially inferior? Was it a reflection of the accusation later made by anti- Semites who claimed that Jews don’t allow intermarriage because they don’t want alien blood?
            He is afraid of the influence of the Canaanite culture.
             Abraham is the epitome of kindness to strangers; only a few chapters before we had seen the worst of cruelty in the behavior of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. The culture of Canaan is also described in the Bible as a culture of sexual license. Abraham is concerned with shaping progeny who were dedicated and loyal and neither trait would be fit for his children.

            We’re all familiar with the test that Eliezer devises to identify the right woman and it raises lots of questions. For example, some of our rabbis asked “Isn’t this an act of divination or of going to an oracle?” You create some test and if the test comes to be then you know that’s your answer? That goes against the teachings of the Bible that we do not use acts of divination.
            It was also, they said, in itself, an unfit request. What if the woman that carried this out was unfit for marriage? Never make an oath that you might regret!
            Rather should see this not as an act of fortune-telling but as a kind of entry exam, let’s say it’s an S A T test not for college but marriage instead.
            What is nature of the test?
            Drawing water for a stranger is, by itself, not so unusual. It would have been a common courtesy to a stranger in those days.
            But in our day? Could imagine all the possible answers that Rebecca could have given if she was one of our modern teenagers?
            “You’re standing near the well, you can go draw it yourself.”
            “I just finished going to the well. Why don't you get one of the girls who has just arrived to help?”
            “I just got the pitcher up on my shoulder; get it down by yourself.”
            The test becomes a real test when we realize what it involves.
            Have any of you ever been on an archaeological tour Israel where you are taken to see ancient wells. You know they are you deep and cavernous circular pits in the ground with staircases cut into the rock going all the way down. It’s not our common depiction of the well with a crankcase attached to a water bucket. You had to go down down down with your bucket and then up up up with a bucket full and heavy.
The great pool of Gibeon, cut from rock, measures 37 feet in diameter and 35 feet deep. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Here's an unusually large cistern
             This mystery woman( or girl) is described as descending into the ancient well of that time  so to draw the water is a major effort.
            Where does she have to bring the water? The watering trough is not next to the well but at a distance, so she is described as running, not walking!
            Eliezer only asks for water for himself. She offers not only to give him water but to draw water until all the camels have finished drinking!
            Eliezer is stunned and we can only understand this when we do the arithmetic for watering camels.
            It turns out that a camel drinks about 25 gallons of water a shot and Eliezer has 10 gallons. That means a total of 250 gallons and if we assume she can carry 5 gallons bucket seven trip, then that is 50 trips up and down the steps of that the well and to the watering trough. Now that is a prayer fulfilled.
            It is now clear for us how Rebecca is so very different from the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. When strangers come to Sodom and Gomorrah they are almost gang raped and killed. When the stranger comes to Rebecca he is nourished. That makes clear why the heir to Abraham’s vision cannot be from the Canaanite peoples but only be from someone like Rebecca.
            Here is the person who runs to help, offers aid without expecting a
tit for tat, without asking “What’s in it for me”, or” why should I bother?”. Here is the ideal one who does not say “call on somebody else.”
            So we can see how much we owe to these camels, because through them, we find a match made in heaven. Perhaps Rebecca was the originator of the slogan, “I’ld walk a mile for a Camel”( but the cigarette people used it the wrong way.)
            We can all use more Rebeccas.
            People of her time may have thought of her as a fool to go out of her way for a stranger, but  I want to respond to it with a quote from Pirke Avoth in the name of Akabya ben Mehalelel:
            “Better that I be called a fool all my life than that there be one moment of wickedness on my account in the presence of God.”
            Let's all choose to be called fools; lets all be like Rachel.

No comments:

Post a Comment