Parashat Hayyei Sarah--Genesis 23:1-25:18
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Questions for Young Children
• How does Eliezer find out Rebekah is a kind person?
• What kind of test could you make up to find out if someone is kind?
• Where is the meeting place for people in ancient times? Why?
• How does Isaac feel when he meets Rebekah?

Questions for Older Children
• Ephron offers the field and cave of Machpelah where Abraham will bury Sarah for free. Why does Abraham insist on paying? Do you think Abraham was right?
• What does Abraham direct Eliezer to say and do when he promises he will get a wife for Isaac? Why you think Abraham does that?
• What does Rebekah do that convinces Eliezer she is the right bride for Isaac?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• Today Machpelah is near Hebron in the Palestinian territories. How important do you think it is for Israel to control the cave of Machpelah?
• Do you visit the graves of your family members who have died? What are some of your customs and how do you feel when you are there? Is there a grave of a famous person that has moved you?
• Why would the Torah juxtapose Sarah’s death and Isaac’s marriage? Has your family ever experienced a death before a happy event? What was that like?

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Invite your family and guests to connect other foods to the parasha.
For example…

• Water figures prominently in this parasha.

      Serve a watercress salad or various types of water as your dinner beverage.

      Count the references to water in the parasha including references to wells.

      Discuss: In Minnesota, we may take water for granted, but that's certainly not true everywhere.
      In this parasha the well itself is almost a character. In the previous parasha, Vayeira, Abraham offered his guests “a little water.” Why is water so central to this parasha? What’s good etiquette at the well? Do       you think water could be a future source of conflict in the Middle East?

• Love between a man and woman is first mentioned in this parasha with the word vaye’ehaveha (he loved her), referring to Isaac’s love for Rebekah.

      Serve a salad with artichoke hearts and/or hearts of palm.

      Discuss why the Torah so infrequently cites love between husband and wife. How does Isaac know he loves Rebecca? How do you think anyone knows he or she loves another? Why is loving Rebecca so                 important to Isaac? Do you know how Rebecca feels about this match?

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This parasha begins with the death and burial of Sarah and ends with Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah. Abraham purchases land in Hebron for Sarah’s burial even after Ephron, the seller, insists he will give the land to Abraham as a gift. Once Sarah is buried, Abraham’s next task is finding a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham sends his servant Eliezer back to his hometown to search out the right woman. Eliezer chooses Rebecca because of her kindness to him at the well and succeeds in persuading her to journey to Eretz Yisrael with him and become Isaac’s wife. The narrative also introduces Laban, Rebekah’s brother, who will figure prominently in the marriages of Rebekah’s son, Jacob. Sadness is dispelled by the end of the parasha as Isaac is comforted by his wife, Rebekah, and Abraham also takes another wife, Keturah.  This year Parashat Hayyei Sarah falls on the Shabbat after Thanksgiving. Perhaps this parasha can prompt you and your guests to think about a link between the two.

Find the food connection…

וַיַּעַן לָבָן וּבְתוּאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ

“Then Laban and Bethuel answered…”
--Genesis 24:50

White Meat of Chicken with Pistachios!
Laban’s (Lavan in Hebrew) name means “white” so chicken breasts were an obvious food choice. Pistachios have a white shell -- a bit more of a stretch. You can push the white theme by serving mashed potatoes, couscous, or white rice as a side dish.

The Side Dish
When I traveled to Israel for a family Bat Mitzvah, I volunteered to make the Shabbat dinner. Chicken with Cilantro Pistachio Pesto seemed like a good choice--quick, flavorful, and I knew it would look good on my cousin's white Shabbat dishes. After shopping for the ingredients for two dozen people, I got down to work cleaning 12 cups of cilantro. My cousin’s husband wandered into the kitchen and exclaimed in horror, “Kusbara! (Cilantro!) My mother hates it.”

Now what? Shabbat was coming soon, pressure was on – we decided to proceed with the recipe and make a plain piece of chicken just in case. My cousin’s husband begged us not to tell his mother the recipe contained kusbara. Omission of the word did not constitute dissimulation in his mind. The meal commenced with compliments flowing through the appetizer and soup courses. Out came the chicken. Up went my blood pressure as I waited for the verdict.

“Chicken with Pistachio Pesto,” I declared to the family. The cilantro-averse mother tasted the chicken and proclaimed, “It's the best chicken I have ever
eaten. Send me the recipe,” she commanded me.

At the end of the meal and I sheepishly told her the recipe included kusbara—did she still want it?
“Of course, I love the kusbara with pistachios.”

Saturday night I laboriously pounded out the recipe in Hebrew on the computer. My cousin noticed my tortoise-pace and suggested I enter the recipe in English and hit Google Translate. It was easier, but before I printed the recipe, I thought I should proofread. Uh-oh. Breast of chicken had been translated to a different kind of breast that would have indicated a cannibalistic recipe.
Moral of the story: Beware Google Translate and don’t assume that your guests won’t try a new dish.

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A Dash of Hebrew
Lavan is both a name and the Hebrew word for the color “white.” But, be careful in Israel if you want white meat of chicken. You’ve already read about the danger of Google Translate for chicken breast. The Hebrew phrase basar lavan (white meat) refers to pork in Israel. So either say, hazeh of (chicken breast) or order meat or fish if you don't want pork.

A Dash of Halakha
S’eudat Mitzvah
In this parasha we have two weddings and a funeral. For sad and happy occasions, we instinctively prepare food. It’s not just a kind gesture, it’s a mitzvah to prepare food for mourners or to join celebrants in a wedding meal. A regular meal is an aruha, but the meal after a funeral or following a wedding is called a s’eudat mitzvah.

A Dash of Zoology

How much water did Rebekah draw from the well?  Animal enthusiasts will be interested to note that Eliezer brought ten camels with him to Aram-Naharaim. Camels drink 30 gallons of water (114 liters). Allow your mathematicians at the table to calculate how many times Rebekah would have to draw water from the well for both Eliezer and his ten camels!  More fun facts about camels--the hump stores fat, not water. Camels can carry up to 500 pounds and are called the "ships of the desert."  Scientists believe camels have been domesticated for 3,000 years.  For the literal-minded, this may lead you and your guests to speculate whether camels and Abraham lived at the same time. If the story is not literally true, you may want to speculate midrashically--why tell this story with ten thirsty camels at the well?

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 pistacho cilantro chicken copy Chicken Breasts with Cilantro-Pistachio Pesto

Gluten free--serves 10-12

  • 3 lbs. of boneless chicken breast
  • 3 c. cilantro
  • 1-1/2 c. pistachios (shelled, of course)
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1-1/2 tsp. cardamon
  • ¾ c. olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Make the pesto:

  1. Combine all the ingredients from cilantro through olive oil in a food processor
  2. Mix until they form a paste. It works best to begin with everything except the olive oil and then slowly pour the olive oil down the feed tube while processing.
  3. Set aside the pesto.

Chicken Preparation

  1. Lightly oil the chicken with olive oil spray or brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and ground pepper.
  2. Grill or broil the chicken until browned.
  3. Remove the chicken from the grill and top with pesto reserving some to serve on the side.
  4. Bake @325 at least 30 min.
  5. Check the thickest piece of white meat to ensure the chicken is cooked through.

If you want a more gourmet look, roll the chicken pieces around the pesto, secure with a toothpick, and bake chicken roll-ups.
Serve with sprigs of cilantro and reserved pesto.

Vegetarian and Pescatarian Note: The cilantro pesto works well as a topping for grilled/broiled tofu or grilled/broiled fish.

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