Chayei Sarah–Family Reunion

His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah . . . . There Abraham was buried, and Sarah his wife.  (Gen 25:9-10)

It is, to me, a lovely detail of reconciliation that both Isaac and Ishmael are there together to bury their father. But what exactly is Ishmael doing in Abraham’s neighborhood? When we last saw him and his mother, they had been driven away and had taken up residence in the wilderness of Paran in the Sinai. The Torah itself provides no answer to this question.

But around 200 BC, a fascinating reinterpretation of the book of Genesis was written. The work is known as the Book of Jubilees because of its unusual calendar system, which divides the biblical period into 49-year “jubilees” and subdivides those into seven-year “weeks.”  Jubilees describes a kind of family reunion at Shavuot just before Abraham’s death:

And it came to pass in the first week of this forty-fourth Jubilee in the second year, the year in which Abraham died, that Isaac and Ishmael came from the well of the oath of Abraham, their father, to observe the feast of Shavuot, which is the feast of the first fruits of the harvest. And Abraham rejoiced because both of his children came . . . .  And Isaac slaughtered a sacrifice as a burnt offering and offered it up upon the altar of his father which he built in Hebron. And he sacrificed a thank offering and made a feast of joy before Ishmael, his brother. And Rebecca made new round cakes of new grain. And she gave them to Jacob, her son, to take to Abraham, his father, from the first fruits of the land so that he may eat and bless the creator of all before he died.  (Jubilees 22:1-4)

But what’s Rebecca doing here??  And Jacob??!!??  The answer is: this is what happens when you take the numbers in the Torah as a single coherent chronology and not as a melange of different sources.  If, as this parsha informs us, Abraham lived to be 175 years (Gen 25:7), and if Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born (Gen 21:5), and if Isaac was 60 when Esau and Jacob were born (gen 26:26), then Abraham passed away only when his twin grandsons were 15.  (Esau is presumably off hunting during this whole reunion.)  In the Jubilees version, before Abraham dies he blesses Jacob directly with two extended blessings, which has the effect of further reducing Isaac’s role in the patriarchal triad: there is a direct connection between Abraham and Jacob.

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