Sarah's tent

Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, ‘Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?’ The servant said, ‘It is my master.’ So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
— Genesis 24:62-67

Back in the day, sports radio was what was on. I was a child. I wasn’t thinking all that deeply about my father’s affinity for a certain AM broadcasting. Now I think: Those announcers really had a job to do! There were no screens in our Atlanta-bound station wagon. Those voices were everything, especially on game days.

More recently, I finally said yes to the headphones at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. [I had been the “I’ll do the exhibit my way” type.] The audio tour didn’t just enhance my experience. Had I gone audio-less, I would have walked away with a different and lesser understanding of Auguste Rodin.

I’m looking at our faith family tree and re-realizing something: We Christians pick up the Old Testament and engage it in a way that Jesus would not though Genesis, for example, can and ought to be read apart from the oral tradition.

What the Rabbis have said about this or that story is far from fluff. Like the announcers on sports radio or the curator in our headphones, their voices can fill the gaps with truth and beauty.

This week I have marveled over Isaac and Rebekah’s story in a whole new way. I have taken the oral tradition up on what it brings to the text and it has not taken me away from God or God in Jesus. I feel more connected.

If I felt sorry for Rebekah for being ripped from her home, I now ponder the rabbinical footnote that reports how her family of origin was not so swell of a place to be. If I still had a bad taste in my mouth with regard to Sarah—see her behavior in Chapters 16 & 21—well, my snark has been softened by the tradition of her tent. Evidently her bread was the best and her candles stayed lit. Oh, how I would love it there!

Preaching is not the same thing as the oral Torah but it is one way that Christians have honored this idea that a life of faith is not lived by the book and only the book. The Word proclaimed is, after all, something beyond reading.

When my sermon doesn’t do it for you, seek out another. And when in Genesis, try doing as our Jewish brothers and sisters do. Say yes to the good announcers, the guided tour. Hey Siri, what do the Rabbis say about why Isaac was walking in that field?


Rachel May