by: Cheryl Pedersen
We’ve all heard the stories. Former high school sweethearts who went their own ways, reunite as widow and widower at their 50th class reunion and find out the spark is still there. Or someone who travels halfway around the world only to run into the boy or girl who lived next door to them years before. The comfort of that former relationship blossoms into love.
Perhaps we have just such a story in Chayei Sarah. At the end of the portion we learn that after Sarah’s death and after securing a wife for his son Isaac, Abraham remarried. Her name was Keturah and there is sufficient proof in Torah to suggest that this was in fact Hagar. Let’s follow the trail.
If we go back in the Abrahamic story to the point at which Sarah treated Hagar so harshly that she ran away, we find that an angel of God was sent to speak to her. Hagar was carrying Abraham’s son at the time.
And the angel of the LORD said to her, ‘I will greatly increase your offspring, And they shall be too many to count.’ The angel of the LORD said to her further, ‘Behold, you are with child And shall bear a son; You shall call him Ishmael, For the LORD has paid heed to your suffering… And [Hagar] called the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are El-roi,’ by which she meant, ‘Have I not gone on seeing after He saw me!'” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it is between Kadesh and Bered.” Genesis 16:10-11, 13-14
Fast forward to Ishmael as a teenager and the kerfuffle that resulted in Sarah demanding once again that Hagar and her son be sent away from the house. Abraham did not want to do this, but God advised him to listen to Sarah, so he filled a skin with water and gave the two some bread before sending them out to the wilderness of Beersheba. Both Beersheba and Beer-lahai-roi are found in southern Israel in fairly close proximity. Beersheba is on the road to Shur and Ishmael is recorded in Genesis 21:15 as living in the wilderness of Paran where you will find the well of Beer-lahai-roi. Hagar found Ishmael an Egyptian wife and we don’t hear about her again.
Turn back to Chayei Sarah and we read that when Eliezer returned to Abraham with Rebekah, Isaac had just come back from Beer-lahai-roi. Specifically, it says that he had settled in the region of the Negev, a desert in which the well named Beer-lahai-roi was located.
Many speculate that while living in the area, Isaac happened to meet Hagar again and perhaps even Ishmael. Isaac was a young boy when Ishmael was sent away, was it possible they struck up a relationship again? Could Ishmael have brought Isaac around to the house to reintroduce him to Hagar, now Keturah? It was not uncommon for someone to take a new name along with a new phase of their life. Was Isaac returning from Beer-lahai-roi to tell Abraham who he met?
Shortly after Isaac and Rebekah were married, we read:
Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishback, and Shuah. Jokshan begot Sheba and Dedan. The descendants of Dedan were the Asshurim, the Letushim, and the Leummim. The descendants of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Enoch, Ebida, and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah. Abraham willed all that he owned to Isaac; but to Abraham’s sons by concubines Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and he sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the East. Genesis 25:1-6
After Abraham’s death we read,
His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field that Abraham had bought from the Hittites; there Abraham was buried, and Sarah his wife. After the death of Abraham, God blessed his son Isaac. And Isaac settled near Beer-lahai-roi. Genesis 25:9-11
Interesting that Isaac and Ishmael would simply come together to bury Abraham by chance. Unless there was a rekindled relationship between the brothers, would such a thing have been possible? Is this a continuing saga about brothers in Torah? The first brotherhood between Cain and Abel ended in fratricide. The next brotherhood was Ishmael and Isaac, a relationship fraught with discord because of their mothers, ended with them at least standing together at their father’s grave. Next we will learn of the contentious relationship between twin brothers Esau and Jacob which ends with reconciliation although they go their own ways. That is followed by the story of Judah and Joseph which ends not just with reconciliation, but true forgiveness and repair. Finally, we have the brothers Manasseh and Ephraim who are given the status of sons of Israel and for whom two tribes were named.
It would appear that both Isaac and Ishmael were able to reunite for the sake of their father and his second wife. Isaac settled where Keturah lived, maybe so he could help to support her in her widowhood. We don’t have all the information, but the clues are there.
What is the lesson in all this? Perhaps it is that we are not to burn bridges with others. It is unknown to us what might come of an old relationship. It is also true in this time of political polarization and the breaking of family relationships over ideology, that we should maybe lay down our ideological arms and seek relationship for the sake of peace. Family and friends, even old friends, should not be put aside, but celebrated and kept close. I’m willing to bet that you, like I, have work to do in that regard.
Here’s to healed and rekindled relationships. L’Chaim! To Life!