Mel Alexenberg
Author of "Through a Bible Lens"

Women, Water, and Lovingkindness (Hayay Sarah)

The fifth portion of Genesis, Hayay Sarah/Sarah’s lifetime, is read from the Torah scroll on this Shabbat (Nov. 7, 2015).  See how my wife Miriam and I linked this Torah portion to our lives, and in my new book PHOTOGRAPH GOD: CREATING A SPIRITUAL BLOG OF YOUR LIFE.

Below is one of the 52 posts of the Torah Tweets blogart project that we created to celebrate our 52nd year of marriage.  During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted six photographs reflecting our life together with a text of tweets that relates the weekly Torah reading to our lives.  See all the photographs here.

M&M_sarah 017


Hayay Sarah/Sarah’s lifetime (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Rebecca came out carrying a jug on her shoulder.  When she went down to the well and drew water, I said to her, “Please give me a drink.”  She hurried and lowered her jug and said, “Drink, and I will also water your camels.” (Genesis 24:45)

This week’s posting from the shores of the Sea of Galilee is about women, water and hesed (loving kindness), both human and divine.

On Shabbat, we heard “Hayay Sarah,” the only Torah portion named for a woman, read from a Torah scroll in Casa Donna Gracia in Tiberius.

We stayed at a hotel built around a museum honoring Donna Gracia, a pioneering Zionist woman who convinced the Sultan to grant her Tiberius.

Rebecca’s water jug linked itself to Donna Gracia’s 500th birthday, Miriam’s well, and religious Zionist women studying the arts.

Rabbi Isaac Luria taught that after moving through the desert with the Israelites, Miriam’s well ended up under the Sea of Galilee.

Rebecca’s hesed linked itself to divine hesed today where Miriam’s well below joins rain from above to fill Israel’s primary water source.

Make the wind blow and the rain descend (recited in morning, afternoon and evening prayers during Israel’s wet winter)

Dark rain clouds hovered as we descended to Tiberius to spend Shabbat with faculty of Emuna College where Mel heads the School of the Arts.

As we checked into Casa Donna Gracia, we were greeted by a mannequin representing Donna Gracia who preceded Herzl by four centuries.

With the water level of the Sea dangerously low, we were disappointed that the rain clouds dissipated as we walked to the waterfront.

On Sunday, we drove to the east side of the Sea where egrets strolled between shells and stones at the water’s edge.

Our oldest grandson Or photographed his youngest brother Razel reaching out for the surf during their summer trip to the Sea of Galilee.


Just as a prism breaks up white light into the colors of the spectrum, kabbalah reveals a spectrum of divine light based upon the biblical passage:

“Yours God are the compassion, the strength, the beauty, the success, the splendor, and the [foundation] of everything in heaven and on earth” (Chronicles 1:29).

Photographing God is to creatively photograph these six divine attributes revealed to you in all aspects of your life.  Focus your lens on acts of compassion, strength, beauty, success, and splendor that you encounter every day and everywhere.  Shift your focus to see ordinary events as being extraordinary, incredible, and amazing.  Take nothing for granted.  To be spiritual is to be continuously amazed.

You can better understand and appreciate the range of meanings within each of these six divine attributes by seeing them expressed in the lives of biblical personalities: Compassion (Abraham and Ruth), Strength (Isaac and Sarah), Beauty (Jacob and Rebecca), Success (Moses and Miriam), Splendor (Aaron and Deborah), and Foundation (Joseph and Tamar).  Imagine walking with your camera millennia ago photographing key events in the lives of these people.  Then take your camera and photograph actions that you observe in the lives of family, friends, and others you encounter that parallel events in the lives of these biblical personalities.

Aesthetic balance between Compassion (Hesed) and Strength (Gevurah) gives rise to Beauty (Tiferet).  Tiferet emerges from dynamic interplay, creative dialogue, and elegant integration between Compassion and Strength.  It is the harmonizing principle that restrains excessive Hesed and mitigates severe Gevurah.


Rebecca represents Tiferet.  In would have been easy to document Rebecca’s Tiferet as acts of both Hesed and Gevurah if cameras were around four millennia ago.  The dramatic biblical narrative describes two events in her life that demonstrate Compassion and Strength.  She treated Abraham’s servant with kindness and showed her strong will when she deceived Isaac by disguising Jacob as his twin brother Esau.

To emphasize the importance of Rebecca’s act of kindness, the narrative is repeated three times.  It is expressed in the prayer of Abraham’s servant, experienced in the act itself, and in his telling the story to Rebecca’s brother.

When he reached his destination, he let his camels rest beside a well in the evening when the daughters of the townsmen come to draw water.  He prayed, “If I say to a girl, ‘Tip over your jug and let me have a drink,’ and she replies, ‘Drink, and I will also give water to your camels,’ she will be the one designated by God for Isaac” (Genesis 24:14).

When he saw a very attractive girl fill her jug, he ran toward her and said, “If you would, let me sip a little water from your jug.”   “’Drink, Sir,’ she replied.  She lowered her jug to her hand and gave him a drink.  When he had finished drinking, she said, ‘Let me draw water even for your camels, so they can also drink water to their fill’ (Genesis 24:18-19).

When Rebecca brought him to her brother Laban, he explained that he had come to find a wife for Isaac, his relative.  Abraham’s servant then repeats the story to Laban of what had happened (Genesis 24:42-46).

As the culmination of this story of compassion, we see sparks of Rebecca’s strength.  After agreeing to her marriage to Isaac, her brother and mother said that they wanted her to stay at home for a year, or at least ten months, before leaving.  However, strong-willed Rebecca said that she would go right away.  They knew her strong will enough not to argue with her.  Rebecca’s physical beauty was matched by her inner beauty, Tiferet, which combines both her kindhearted and giving nature with her powerful and resolute disposition.

Rebecca and Isaac had twins.  When they grew up, Esau became a skilled hunter, a man of the field, and Jacob was a scholarly man abiding in tents.  Isaac enjoyed eating Esau’s game and favored him, but Rebecca favored Jacob.  Like Sarah, who possessed the vision to see that Isaac was Abraham’s son who could conserve his legacy, Rebecca had the insight to realize that the furtherance of Abraham’s legacy would be through Jacob.  Isaac blindness extended from his eyes to his inability to see that Esau, assimilating into the Hittite culture of his wives, was unable to carry on the mission of his grandfather.

Rebecca dressed Jacob in the Esau’s coat, covered his arms with goat skin on his arms and neck, and had Jacob serve his father his favorite recipes that she cooked to taste like the delicacies that Esau usually made for him.  Isaac became suspicious as Jacob was carrying out Rebecca’s ruse to insure that Jacob was blessed rather than Esau.  When Jacob drew close to his elderly father, he felt him and said, “Your voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Genesis 27:22).  Still suspicious, Jacob asked Jacob to come close to him and kiss him.   The fragrance of the field of Esau’s coat that Jacob wore, convinced him to bless Jacob as his heir, “May God grant you the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine” (Genesis 27:27).

Rebecca had the prophetic vision that only Compassion coupled with Strength could insure the dissemination of Abraham’s universal message of love and peace.  She understood that Jacob, her more intellectual and spiritual son, required the hands of the more aggressive and materialistic Esau to succeed in the on-going battle to protect Abraham’s mission from its countless enemies aiming at its annihilation to this day.

The text above is based upon my book, Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life

About the Author
Mel Alexenberg is an artist, educator, writer, and blogger working at the interface between art, technology, Jewish thought, and living the Zionist miracle in Israel. He is the author of "Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media," "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness," and "Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art" in Hebrew. He was professor at Columbia, Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide. He lives in Ra’anana, Israel, with his wife artist Miriam Benjamin.