Avraham: Something for Everyone

It’s one of those quaint things that many of us grew up with, even as we had no clue why it was and how to process it. I refer to a woman named Keturah, a detail in the epilogue of our parsha – an apparent footnote in a major transition between Avraham and Yitzchak. The context – Avraham’s remarriage and giving birth to six (!) more children (at the ripe age of 140) [1].

1: Avraham again took a wife. Her name was Keturah. 2: She bore him Zimran, Yokshon, Medan, Midian, Yishbok, and Shuach. 3: Yokshon fathered Shevah and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Ashurim, Letushim and Leumim. 4: The sons of Midian were Eiphah, Eipher, Chanoch, Avidah and Eldoah. All these were children of Keturah. .. He sent them away from Yitzchok, his son, while he [Avraham] was still alive. [He sent them] eastward to the Land of the East. 7: These are the days of the years of Avraham which he lived, one hundred years, seventy years and five years. 8: Avraham expired and died in a good old age, old and satisfied, and he was gathered to his people.

It makes for great trivia questions [ask around: how many children did Avraham have?] – and wonderment, challenging us to consider:

a. Why does Avraham remarry at all? b. Avraham bears another 6 children at around the age of 140. What is the significance of this c. Avraham sends them away – why?

But one thing we all know is that Keturah was not a third wife, she was the return of Hagar (by a very different name). This “fact” is known to every yeshiva kid – save for Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Chizkuni and indeed the Sages of the midrash. [Tanchuma, Chayei Sara 8]

“Rabbi said: Hagar is the same as Ketura. Why is she called Ketura? Because she was completely celibate [after originally being banished by Avraham]. But the Sages said: He married a different woman.

Our knowledge is Rashi-centric and to him we shall return. What emerges is two distinct approaches for Keturah’s identity. Either she was Hagar or she was not. Either way, we must ponder the questions we posed above.

I. Assuming that Hagar = Keturah, we supplement our question list:

d. What basis is there to make the leap that identifies Hagar with Keturah? (i.e. textual support)?e. If she is Hagar, then why the changed name? f. Why does Avraham bring her back? g.Doesn’t this violate Sarah’s word to send away the maidservant and her son – Is Avraham not proscribed from marrying Hagar?

Rashi provides us with 2 textual supports. On the verse that describes Avraham’s concubine children, the Torah states:

ובני הפילגשם – To the sons of the concubines that Avraham had, Avraham gave gifts.

Rashi notes that the hapilagshim, the plural of concubines is spelled deficiently [without a yud] to teach:

..that there was only one concubine, [for] Hagar was identical with Keturah. Wives are [those that are married] with a kesubah. Concubines are those who have no kesubah.

The absence of the yud implies a singular pilegesh [2] – which can only happen if Hagar and Keturah are one [3].

The second basis: Immediately prior to describing the 1st encounter [the camel scene] between Yitzchak and Rivkah, the Torah relates

Yitzchok had just come from the well [called] Lachai Ro’i, for he lived in the land of the Negev.

But why is it significant from whence he came? Thus, Rashi [based on the midrash] elaborates:

He was returning to bring Hagar back to his father so that he could [re]marry her

The well of Lachai Ro’i is key, for its only prior reference is in a Hagar context; she is forced out [the 1st time] and the angel tells her to return to Sarah, whereupon Hagar remarks:

She called the Name “You are Almighty Who sees,” .. therefore the well was called: “Be’er Lachai Ro’i;[the well of the living vision]

A remarkable and poignant scene thus emerges: While Avraham is pushing his son’s shidduch, Yitzchak, is looking for his father. Perhaps, the a Sarah-less life was so painful that both needed comfort. Indeed, Rivkah is explicitly mentioned as a comfort for Yitzchak. Perhaps the same is true for Avraham.

Something much deeper is going on here. Rashi clues us in by explaining the name change [25:1]

“Ketura – this was Hagar. She is called ‘Ketura’ because her actions were pleasant like incense (ketoret) [4],

Rashi’s beautiful words seem to be self contradictory, for earlier when Hagar is kicked out for the second and final time the Torah describes. [21:14]

“‘She departed and she wandered’ – she returned to the idols of her father’s house.”

Zohar, Chizkuni, Kli Yakar among others offer a classic resolution. Hagar became a ba’alas teshuva, returning after her stray. How fitting, in classic Talmudic and Maimonidean fashion is her name change – for the name change bespeaks a teshuva process of shedding old ways and emerging as a transformed or transcendent personality. Kli Yakar’s beautiful comment that davka the incense analogy is apt for ketoret turns the foul smelling chelbanah [one of its 11 ingredients] into a reiach nichoach, a beautiful aroma – reminiscent of Hagar’s transformation.

Avraham dies at a good age; For Ramban, that means a state of having accomplished it all; for Rashi it is the sense of closure; Yishmael after experiencing the vicissitudes of life has come back; Avraham who must force out Yishmael and Hagar because of their deviant paths is able to bring them back into the beis Avraham, thus closing his life with serenity. Avraham does not violate Sarah’s command [5], for that only obtains when they are negatively impacting. One fascinating question: the chickens come home to roost: both Yishmael and Hagar return – coincidence? Or did one lead the other, and if so – in which direction? I have seen no sources on the matter. Something to think about!

II. In our 2nd approach (that of the Sages), (Keturah ≠ Hagar), we may rightfully wonder why the Torah does not reveal Keturah’s identity and Why indeed does Avraham marry her? A simple midrashic approach:

“‘In the morning – sow your seed, and towards evening do not cease’ (Kohelet 11:6) – if you have children when you are young, marry a wife in your old age and bear [more] children. From whom do we learn this? From Avraham, who married a wife and had children when he was younger, and he took [another] wife in his old age.” (Yalkut Shimoni 109)

As long as he is living, man must be productive – physically and spiritually. The Piasetzner Rebbe taught that the phrase ba bayamim, a term used in Chumash exclusively for Avraham and Sarah, implies squeezing every moment out of life – living it to the max. Avraham came with all of his days, not leaving a moment behind.

But who and why Keturah? The simplest approach is that she was a local – a Canaanite women, raising the obvious question of whither the Abrahamitic prohibition of marryng a Canaanite woman. The approach is taken and the questions asked. A beautiful midrash however dispels this notion: [Yalkut Shimoni, Iyov - 903]

“Abraham married three women: Sarah, the daughter of Shem; Ketura, the daughter of Japheth; Hagar, the daughter of Ham”. .. first the daughter of Shem, then the daughter of Ham, and finally the daughter of Japheth.

In other words Avraham marries three women, fulfilling the blessing of “through you shall be blessed all the families of the world”. Rashbam [Bereishis, 28:14] stunningly explains the word v’nivrichu [6] as grafting. In this light the Divine imperative is that at the end of his life, in his post-Sarah existence, Avraham fulfills the last piece of his blessing – through him the world is blessed and populated. After years of isolation, Avraham becomes the father of a multitude of nations.
But it is not merely about creating people. Avraham sends away the children, to the Far East, i.e. to the far flung corners of the world. He knows that in the end, they too shall return.

It may take a few thousand years, but the notion that there is a piece of Avraham in every human being, means that hope, and pining for a connection to the Master of the Universe springs eternal; for beyond the pintele yid [the little spark of Jew], there is a pintele Avraham resident in every neshama, waiting to be ignited , to fulfill the words of the prophet: “For then will I turn to the nations a pure language, that they may all call on the name of the LORD – to serve Him as one. [Tzephania, 3:9]

As Jews, let us help light their fires.

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1. Cf Netziv who says that the Torah does not emphasize this miracle as much as the birth of Yitzchak – for once Avraham is rejuvenated, it was natural for him to be able to produce children [akin to the stone of the desert that produced (and kept on producing) water]

2. Rashi is explaining the keri/k’tiv – for the pronunciation is plural as there were two marriages, but the k’tiv reflects that it was to one woman.

3. Much Torah surrounds this Rashi – but one fascinating nugget need be said: Rashi’s Torah text is different than our Masoretic wherein hapilagshim is not deficient. – Cf Gilyon Hashas Shabbos 155b for a large list of discrepancies.

4. Rashi presents a 2nd reason – she had remained celibate from the day she separated from Avraham – connected to the Aramaic katar which means tied up.

5. Cf. R. Yaakov Kamenetsky who explains that after Yitzchak marries Rivkah and is firmly estalished as the primary spiritual heir of Avraham, then Avraham is willing to remarry Hagar – for Sarah’s prohibition only applies insofar as yishmael might claim to be the primary heir of Avraham. This fear is no longer relevant.

6. Thus it is etymologically related to havracha , i.e. grafting. Cf. the Lubavitcher Rebbe for an amazing analysis of 3 periods in Avraham’s life.