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KETURAH: PLEASANT LIKE INCENSE

The reunion of Avrohom with Hagar, who remained as pure as incense, so she was known as Keturah. * On the sixth reading of Parshas Chayei Sara, with integrated commentary of Rashi.

by Rabbi Boruch Merkur

In the autumn of his years, Abraham's heart turned to companionship once more, and he took a wife named Keturah. A familiar presence, Keturah was none other than Hagar, who once wandered the desert with her son. Her return was marked by a new name, a whisper of change like the scent of incense that clings to the folds of garments long after the smoke has cleared.


Keturah (related to the word "ketoret," incense), a name that spoke of her deeds, indicates that she was as pleasing as the fragrance offered on high. The name also told of a promise kept, a life untouched since the day she parted from Abraham. Her return was a testament to the unwavering paths that had brought them to this reunion.


As Abraham welcomed her, it was not just the first joining of two souls but the merging of past and future, a tapestry woven through time, each thread a story, each color a memory. In the presence of Keturah, Abraham found not just a partner but a mirror to the life he had lived, a companion for the days yet to unfold.


*


Abraham's life oversaw a growing family tree. Keturah, the woman who was once Hagar, brought forth new life, a testament to Abraham's enduring vitality. She bore him a lineage of sons: Zimran, whose name carried the melody of the mountains; Jokshan, whispering of distant lands; Medan, echoing the morning; Midian, a shadow stretching across the desert sands; Jishbak, a name like a brook's gentle babble; and Shuah, resonating like the breath of wind through the dunes.


Each son was a note in Abraham's lengthy symphony, a distinct sound that would resonate through generations. They were the seeds of nations, the beginnings of stories that would weave through history long after their patriarch's journey on this earth would end. Each name was a promise, each life a continuation of Abraham's covenant, an assurance that his legacy would endure, as numerous as the stars he once counted in the promise of his God.


*


Jokshan, son of Abraham and Keturah, continued the lineage with two sons of his own: Sheba, whose name would come to be associated with wealth and splendor, and Dedan, father to nations that would scatter across the lands like seeds in the wind. The sons of Dedan were known as Ashurim, Letushim, and Leumim, each a tribe that would carve its own path, their names etched in the annals of the peoples who walked the earth.


The Ashurim were known for their might, the Letushim for their wandering tents that kissed the edges of the horizon, and the Leumim, perhaps, for their congregation, a people banded together. Each name that echoed from Dedan was an echo of the promise given to Abraham, of a world made vast and varied by his offspring. These were the early chapters of a story that would span continents and centuries, a narrative of divergence from a single, sacred lineage.


*


Amidst the lineage of Abraham, Midian, another son of Keturah, brought forth his own progeny. The names of his sons—Ephah, Epher, Enoch, Abida, and Elda'ah—would come to signify the continuation of a legacy that stretched like a canopy over the sands of time. Each son, a bearer of his own destiny, would ripple through the generations, their lives and journeys a testament to the seeds sown by Abraham.


Ephah, Epher, Enoch, Abida, and Elda'ah were living branches, each sprouting with potential, carrying within them the echoes of their forefather's covenant. They were the sons of Keturah, whose union with Abraham was a continuation of a narrative that spoke of divine promises and human endeavor.


All these were the sons of Keturah, a woman whose name symbolized the incense of good deeds, and whose children's names would make their mark on history.


*


Abraham, the patriarch, settled his affairs with a gesture that echoed the divine command he had received long ago. Avrohom provided Isaac with all that he possessed. This was not merely a transfer of earthly belongings but the handing down of an intangible heritage, rich with promise and covenant.


The gift bestowed upon Isaac was saturated with the power to bless, the very ones that the Almighty had placed in Abraham's trust. These blessings, potent and unbounded, were the same that had transformed Abraham into a fountain of benediction, able to endow favor upon whom he chose. Now, this sacred charge, this divine power of enrichment, was given to Isaac, securing his role in the unfolding saga of their lineage.


As Abraham extended all to his beloved son, it was a confirmation of the faith and destiny that would carry forward through Isaac. The narrative of a people yet to be, a nation founded on the principles of faith, justice, and an unbreakable bond with the Divine, was entrusted to Isaac's keeping, as per the promise of the Lord.


*


In the waning years of Abraham's life, as he felt the weight of days upon him, he turned his gaze towards the future. With deliberate intention, he bestowed gifts upon the sons of his concubines, the children of Hagar, known also as Keturah.


These gifts, though not detailed in substance, carried the weight of a father's foresight, ensuring they would not be left empty-handed as they ventured away from the shadow of Isaac, the son of promise. The Sages pondered these gifts, some seeing them as a transfer of power over spiritual impurity, others as the relinquishment of material wealth given in Sarah's merit, a wealth Abraham refused to enjoy for himself.


With the same hands that once trembled above Isaac on Moriah, Abraham sent his other sons eastward, away from the covenantal land promised to his lineage through Isaac. In this act, he created a buffer of distance, a respectful space between the heir of his covenant and those of different destinies.


*


As Abraham's days stretched into years, his years into decades, he walked the earth for a span that tethered together a century, seven decades, and five years. A life lived across shifting sands, beneath changing skies, beside the laughter of a promised child, and within the echoes of divine conversations. His years, though marked by the passage of time, told a story of a man whose heart remained untarnished by the years; at a hundred, he held the purity of a man of seventy, and at seventy, the innocence of a child of five, untouched by sin.


In this calculation of years, we glimpse the quality of Abraham's life as well as their length. A patriarch whose every chapter, from the bold strides of his youth to the reflective steps of his old age, was inscribed with a singular dedication to a path devoid of misstep, his soul as pristine as when he first heeded the call to journey to an unknown land.


*


And so, the final day of Abraham's earthly sojourn dawned, and as the sun set on his life, he took his last breath with the peaceful resignation of one who has seen many seasons come and go. He departed this world as one who had sipped deeply from the cup of life, aged and contented, his soul satiated by a plethora of experiences, both bitter and sweet. With dignity, he closed his eyes to this temporal realm and was gathered to his forebears, leaving behind a revolution of consciousness.


Abraham's life, marked by unwavering faith and boundless hospitality, had been a beacon to his family and to the nations. As he crossed over the threshold from the temporal to the eternal, one could almost hear the blessings and the tales of journeys taken, promises kept, and challenges met. Abraham's days were more than just a tally of time, they were a testament to a life lived in full resonance with the divine will.


*


In the quiet of the Canaanite landscape, where the silhouettes of the future and the shadows of the past met, Isaac and Ishmael came together, setting aside any former strife. United in grief and reverence, they bore Abraham to his final resting place in the Cave of Machpelah. The field of Ephron son of Zohar, which faced Mamre, became the silent witness to the patriarch's interment.


The act of burying their father was not merely a fulfillment of duty; it signified Ishmael's return to the fold, a penitent heart leading him to defer to Isaac, the chosen son. This act of respect and unity encapsulated the essence of Abraham's "good old age," a life that, even in its concluding chapter, continued to sow seeds of harmony and hope.


As the two brothers emerged from the cave, the age-old oaks of Mamre stood tall, their branches whispering the tales of Abraham, a man who walked with God. The weight of his years had been full of complexities and trials, yet also brimming with divine promise and fulfillment. Now, Abraham was gathered to his people, leaving behind a legacy that would stretch into eternity, as enduring as the stars he once counted under the promise of the Almighty.


*


The field that Abraham had secured from the sons of Heth became a family inheritance, a testament to the life he had built. There, beneath the terebinths of Mamre, in the Cave of Machpelah, Abraham was laid to rest alongside Sarah, his companion through journeys and the mother of all Jewish descendants. The cave, a silent witness to the covenant and the promises whispered within its chambers, now cradled the patriarch and his wife, holding the beginnings of a people in its earthen embrace.


*


After Abraham's departure from this world, the mantle of blessing was bestowed upon Isaac. God Himself, in His infinite kindness, offered comfort to the mourning son, embracing him with the gentle assurance reserved for those who grieve. Isaac, now the carrier of his father's legacy, settled near Be'er Lachai Ro'i, the very place where Hagar once found solace and revelation by the well. It was here, in the tranquility of this haven, that Isaac continued to cultivate the promise sown by his father, under the watchful care of the Almighty who had chosen him to uphold the covenant into the next generation.

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