Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Parshat Chayei Sarah

The Other Sons of Avraham

Most of the stories of Avraham revolve around his yearning and God's promise that he will bear a son. That finally occurs when he was 100 years old.

It is therefore, most surprising, to learn at the end of the parsha that Avraham not only did Avraham have another son, Yishamael, but that he had a further six sons!!

"Abraham took another wife and her name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Jishbak and Shuah" (Bereshit 25:1-2).

Nevertheless, God had previously promised Avraham that only "Yitschak will be called your seed" (ibid 21:12).

However, it is very common for brothers to fight among themselves for the leadership and inheritance. David's sons had a number of conflicts be fore David formally and publicly declared that Shlomo, not Adoniyahu, would be his successor (I Melachim 1:34). Even after this declaration, it was clear that Adoniyahu harboured dreams of claiming the monarchy (ibid 2:22).

The fact that the seven other sons were "sons of Avraham's concubines" (Bereshit 25:6), is irrelevant to their claims of inheritance. The four sons of Bilha and Zilpa equally inherited Yaakov with their brother, as did Avimelech, one of Gidon's seventy sons (see Shoftim Ch.8-9). Yiftach was also supposed to inherit with his brothers, but they drove him away (ibid 11:2).

Indeed, ancient law states that sons of concubines and slaves have an equal right of inheritance with legitimate heirs. However, there is one proviso. The father can disinherit "illegitimate" children by publicly proclaiming who his heirs are and by releasing them from slavery.

This is exactly what Avraham does. First of all he publicly states that Yitschak is his sole heir: "Avraham gave all that he possessed to Yitschak" (Bereshit 25:5). This is confirmed by his servant who tells Lavan and Betuel: "Sarah, my master's wife, bore a son to my master after she had become old, and he gave him all that he possesses" (ibid 24:36).

However, Avraham performs a further two acts to ensure that Yitschak will be protected from any uprising by his more numerous brothers.

Firstly, "to the sons of Avraham's concubines, Avraham gave gifts" (ibid 25:6). Avraham ensured that his other sons were well provided for materially and that they would have no material claims against Yitschak.

Furthermore: "and he sent them away from his son Isaac while he [Abraham] was still alive, eastward to the land of the East" (ibid). The words "to send away" is the same word used for "divorce", i.e. Avraham releases them from his servitude. We had previously seen how Avraham had done this to one son, Yishmael (ibid 21:14). The Torah now states that Avraham did the same treatment to his other sons. Note, that Avraham was not leaving them destitute, he was merely securing Yitschak's claim over the Land of Canaan.

Moreover, when Avraham died, note how the Torah states: "Yitschak and Yishmael his sons buried him" (ibid 25:9), with Yitschak's name being written first. Furthermore, we see that "after Avraham's death… Isaac settled near Be'er Lachai Ro'i" (ibid 11). This is where Hagar had fled to after she was freed from Avraham's household (ibid 16:14). Yitschak is clearly asserting his claim over this area.

Notice finally, at the list of Yishmael's toldot, he is described as: "these are the toldot of Yishmael the son of Abraham, whom Hagar the Egyptian, the maidservant of Sarah, bore to Abraham" (ibid 25:12), i.e. Yishmael was the son of Hagar who just happened to have been born to Avraham. Just a few pesukim later, while stating Yitschak's toldot, the passuk writes: "these are the generations of Yitschak the son of Avraham; Avraham begot Yitschak" (ibid 19).

Avraham may have had eight sons, but he only had one heir.

Last year's Sedra Short for Parshat Chayei Sarah, entitled: "The Legacy of Terach” appears at

Another Sedra Short for Parshat Chayei Sarah, entitled: "A Stranger and a Sojourner" can be found at

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