Torah Thoughts – Chayei Sarah

The law of first mention may be said to be the principle that requires one to go to that portion of the Scriptures where a doctrine is mentioned for the first time and to study the first occurrence of the same in order to get the fundamental inherent meaning of that doctrine. When we thus see the first appearance, which is usually in the simplest form, we can then examine the doctrine in other portions of the Word that were given later. We shall see that the fundamental concept in the first occurrence remains dominant as a rule, and colors all later additions to that doctrine.

Why in the world would I start this week’s study with a quote on the law of first mention? Simply put, because Abraham, in seeking a place to bury his wife Sarah, predicated his request with “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you…” or as the JPS translates, “I am a resident alien among you…” (Genesis 23:4). He called himself a גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב, (ger v’toshav), a sojourner and foreigner or resident alien. In other words, he is different from the people with whom he is speaking regardless of the fact that he lived among them and interacted congenially with them. A quick word search in Genesis shows that the term “ger” or a derivative of it appears at least twelve times. While “ger” may simply refer to living in a specific place, it often carries the connotation of dwelling in the midst of another people but separate; i.e., living together but not assimilating the culture, customs or religion of the indigenous dwellers. The importance of the aspect of not assimilating can be seen in Abraham’s insistence that Eliezer seek a bride for Isaac from among his (Abraham’s) kin.

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Genesis 24:1-4

Though the word ger has evolved through time to indicate a convert to Judaism, in antiquity it was not so. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, as well as the children of Israel, were foreigners and strangers when they dwelt among the Canaanites, the Philistines, and the Egyptians. Later King David would make the following declaration during Solomon’s commissioning speech,

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.

1 Chronicles 29:14-15

Again, we see the terms strangers and sojourners, indicating resident aliens, those separate from the peoples among whom they dwelt. This separateness, not wanting to be like those around them, is not simply a “Jewish thing”. It is a divine commandment. Speaking to Bnei Yisrael HaShem commanded,

You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

Leviticus 20:26

Rav Shaul took this idea of separation even further when he declared the word of HaShem to the believers in Corinth,

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you…

2 Corinthians 6:16-17

Followers of Yeshua, just like the children of Israel, are to be separate and distinct from the world. While at the same time they are to dwell in holiness within the world, showing forth the light and life of HaShem and Messiah Yeshua.

Kefa (Peter) continues with this thought when he wrote to his community,

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

1 Peter 2:11-12

Notice if you will, Kefa encouraged his readers to be sojourners and exiles who are in control of their fleshly passions, i.e., their carnal instincts, especially as they relate to those around them, those who are not followers of Yeshua. Notice as well, that Kefa expected his audience to be interacting with the world around them. Kefa may well have been remembering the commandment in the Torah,

You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 19:34

Beginning with Abraham, the Jewish people have been strangers and foreigners, gerim v’toshavim, a people set apart from the rest of the world to be holy unto the LORD and to be a light and an example to the rest of the world to God’s glory and grace. At the same time, HaShem requires Israel to treat those who are themselves strangers and foreigners with grace and care because they (Israel) have been strangers and sojourners since the time of Abraham. As followers of Yeshua, whether Jewish or from the nations, we too have the responsibility to treat non-Yeshua followers with grace and care, thereby letting our lives and our words exemplify HaShem’s care and concern for them. 

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV Text Edition of the Bible. Copyright © 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL.

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