Ohel Sara: Eden Redeemed

Twice we are invited into the tent of Sarah. The first time is when God asks Avraham, “Where is your wife Sarah?” Avraham answers, “There in the tent.” At this meeting Sarah is promised by God that she will have a baby. Following that all sorts of things happen. S’dom and Amora are destroyed. Lot and his daughters… Sarah is kidnapped by another king. Isaac is born. Ishmael is banished. Abraham takes Isaac to Moriah. Sarah dies. Abraham purchases a burial place for her. His chief warden returns to the old homestead, the place between the two rivers, to gain a wife for Isaac. He does so. He brings her back to the Land of Israel. Isaac meets her. They are married. They begin their new life in the tent of his mother Sarah.

Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death. (Ber.24)

A critical portion of the narrative of the life of Abraham and Sarah is framed by the  tent of Sarah, the tent of Sarah in which Isaac’s birth is announced, and the tent of Sarah in which Isaac and Rebecca create home and family. Ohel Sarah, this tent of Sarah, is vividly portrayed in the Midrash to this verse.

Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah… (24:67). You find that as long as Sarah lived, a cloud hovered over her tent; when she died, that cloud disappeared; but when Rebekah came, it returned. As long as Sarah lived, her doors were wide open; at her death that generosity ceased; but when Rebekah came, that generosity returned. As long as Sarah lived, there was a blessing upon her dough, and the candles burned from the evening of the Sabbath until the evening of the following Sabbath; when she died, these ceased, but when Rebekah came, they returned. And so when he saw her following in his mother’s footsteps, separating her hallah in purity and handling her dough in purity, straightway Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah. (B’reisheet Rabba 60:16) 

Sarah’s tent is akin to the Mishkan-Tabernacle in the desert. The Mishkan always had the glory cloud above it, the kindled menorah, and the offering of Challa, all of which had to be done in purity. What is it that provokes the Rabbis to attribute Tabernacle-like features to Ohel Sara-the Tent of Sarah?

The Mishkan-Tabernacle is the successor to the Garden of Eden. The Menorah that gives light is described the way a tree, the Tree of Knowledge, is described. The kruvim (aka Cherubs) are found in the Torah only twice, in the Garden and hovering above the ark in which are the Aseret Ha’Dibrot-the Ten Principles. One of the rivers that goes forth from Eden is Gihon, the name of the spring beneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Tabernacle in the desert and later the Solomonic Temple are the successors to Eden. The Tabernacle and later the Temple are gained because Eden is restored by Abraham and Sarah.

Avraham and Sara restore Eden. We know this because the narrative of Adam and Hava, and Avraham and Sarah function in parallel to each other, with the latter redeeming the former. Here then are the parallels which link the two episodes.

The Kadosh Barukh Hu in all of TaNaKh talks to only two married couples, to Adam and Hava and to Avraham and Sarah. These two conversations are bound to each other, one shedding light on the other. The second conversation redeems the first. The first conversation’s topic is punishment for sin, a punishment that afflicts all of humanity, man and woman. The second conversation undoes that punishment, and restores woman to her place in the Garden before the sin.

Here are the parallels between the two episodes, the latter redeeming the former. This follows the sequence in  B’reisheet 18, and its sequel in the birth narrative of Yitzhak.

In both stories the time of day is determined by the weather.

They heard the sound of the LORD God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of day (Gen 3:8);

…he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot (Gen 18:1)

In both stories the conversation takes place around a tree.

When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate. (Gen 3:6);

Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree. (Gen 18:4)

In both stories bread is served.

By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat… (Gen 3:19 );

And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves (Gen 18:5)

In both stories God wants to know where someone is.

The LORD God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9);

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?”  (Gen 18:9)

In both stories there is discussion of fertility and birth.

And to the woman He said, “I will make most severe your pangs in childbearing; In pain shall you bear children. (Gen 3:16);

I will return to you at the time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Gen 18:14)

In both stories a woman disagrees with God.

And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done!” The woman replied, “The serpent duped me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:13);

And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to be Eden like… (Gen 18:12)

In both stories Eden figures prominently.

The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the Adam whom He had formed. (Gen 2:8);

Now that I am withered, am I to be Eden like… (Gen 18:12)

In both stories there is the involvement of mala’akhim.

…and stationed east of the Garden of Eden the Kruvim… (Gen 3:24);

Looking up, he saw three angelic persons standing near him. (Gen 18:2)

In both stories there is reference to a husband listening to the voice of a wife.

To Adam He said, “Because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate of the tree…” (Gen 3:17);

whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her voice (Gen 21:12)

In the first story one of the consequences of the sin is the subordination of woman to man. In the Garden, Adam and Hava are created equivocally.  Because Adam listened to the voice of his wife, when she gave him a bad idea, she is subordinated.  After her there are no consequential women in the Torah until Sarah. The culmination of the story of the conversation with Avraham and Sarah is the exact opposite.  Avraham must now listen to the voice of Sarah.  The equivocality of woman is restored.

The parallels are unmistakable. These are the only two episodes in all of TaNaKh in which the Kadosh Barukh Hu talks to a husband and wife.  The first conversation takes place after the first sin.  The purpose of the conversation is to describe the  consequence of the sin.  The purpose of the second conversation is the restoration of Eden.  That begins with Avraham and Sarah.  The parallels, as described above, are striking. They instruct us to learn the two episodes in relationship to each other.

The final proof lies in the citation below from the Prophet Yeshayahu in which God reminds Israel through the prophet that like Adam, Abraham and Sarah were but one at the very beginning. The prophet goes on to tell us that when the Jewish people return to their root, to Avraham and Sarah, then the Land of Israel will be like the Garden of Eden itself.

Listen to Me, you who pursue justice, You who seek the LORD: Look to the rock you were hewn from, To the quarry you were dug from. 2 Look back to Abraham your father And to Sarah who brought you forth. For he was only one when I called him, But I blessed him and made him many. 3 Truly the LORD has comforted Zion, Comforted all her ruins; He has made her wilderness like Eden, Her desert like the Garden of the LORD. Gladness and joy shall abide there, Thanksgiving and the sound of music. (Isa 51:1-3)

Eden is restored in the life of Avraham and Sarah. Isaac and Rebecca enter Sarah’s tent, Eden restored. That is why Isaiah summons Israel to recall Avraham and Sarah, the restorers of Eden. What Adam and Hava ruined, Avraham and Sarah redeemed. The blessing to Avraham and Sarah is realized in their children who will live in the Eden like land.

About the Author
Rabbi Yehiel Poupko is Rabbinic Scholar at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
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