Stranger in a Strange Land

Ever feel strange or like you don't quite fit in? You're in good company. Abraham described himself as a stranger in a strange land. He lived as a nomad and a stranger in a land that did not belong to him.

A 1692 map of Canaan. Author: Lea, Philip Publisher: Lea, Philip Date: 1692 Location: Holy Land, Israel (Image: Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

Chayei Sarah

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Chayei Sarah (חיי שרה | Sarah's life)
  • Torah: Genesis 23:1-25:18
  • Haftarah: 1 Kings 1:1-31
  • Gospel: John 4:3-14

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Genesis 23:1 | Sarah's Death and Burial
    • Genesis 24:1 | The Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah
    • Genesis 25:1 | Abraham Marries Keturah
    • Genesis 25:7 | The Death of Abraham
    • Genesis 25:12 | Ishmael's Descendants
  • Prophets
    • 1Ki 1:1 | The Struggle for the Succession
    • 1Ki 1:28 | The Accession of Solomon

Portion Summary

The fifth reading from the book of Genesis is named Chayei Sarah (חיי שרה). It means "Sarah lived," because the narrative begins with the words "Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years" (Genesis 23:1). This portion of the Torah is filled with romance and sorrow. It tells the story of how Abraham mourned his wife after her passing, and how he procured a wife for his son Isaac. At the end of this portion, Abraham is laid to rest beside his beloved wife.


God promised Abraham the whole land of Canaan, but the reality was that Abraham did not even own enough land to bury his wife. Abraham was a stranger in Canaan without any property of his own. He did not have a family tomb. He had to purchase property from the locals. Abraham approached the Hittites who lived at Hebron and said, “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you.” The author of the book of Hebrews paraphrased that statement in his remarks on Abraham’s sojourn in Canaan:

By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:9-10)

Having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the [land]. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The author of the book of Hebrews inferred from Abraham’s statement “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you” that Abraham was seeking after Messianic Jerusalem and the kingdom of heaven on earth. He looked for “the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” and “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” If he had merely been seeking a homeland to call his own, he could have returned to Aram in Mesopotamia where his family still had holdings.

Abraham had plenty of opportunities to return to Aram, and later in this parashah, he sends his servant Eliezer back there. That being the case, why did Abraham and Sarah choose to live as nomads and strangers on a little scrap of a promised land that they themselves were not going to inherit? The author of the epistle to the Hebrews says, “These died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). They lived as strangers and exiles in the land of Canaan, but they did so confident in the future inheritance. They sought the promised land of the Messianic Era. They anticipated the transcendent, “holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).

In the world to come, the Jerusalem above will descend to unite with the physical Jerusalem below. Then the upper waters will be rejoined with the lower waters.

Though Abraham and Sarah could only glimpse it as if from a distance, and even then, only through the eyes of faith, that glimpse of the Messianic Era and the New Jerusalem of the world to come made this current world and all it had to offer pale in comparison. Abraham identified himself as a citizen of the future kingdom and city. As to this present world and all it had to offer, he said, “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you.” Therefore, God was not ashamed to be called the God of Abraham.

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Depths of the Torah. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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