Many people, when asked whom Avraham, our first forefather and the bearer of monotheism, was married to, will answer, Sarah. Some might even add Hagar, the servant of Sarah who bore Avraham his first child, Yishma’eil. But how many people would include Keturah in their answer? Who is Keturah?
The Pasuk states (BeReishit: 25:1), “VaYosef Avraham VaYikach Ishah UShmah Keturah,” “Avraham proceeded and took a wife and her name was Keturah.” Immediately following the marriage of his son Yitzchak to Rivkah, Avraham takes for himself another wife, Keturah. Many of the Rishonim grapple with the identity of this mysterious woman. Rashi (ad loc. s.v. Keturah) explains that Keturah in reality is Hagar. This is the same Hagar that was shipped out by Avraham from his house in last week’s Parashah. But does this really make sense? According to Chizkuni (ad loc. s.v. VaYosef Avraham VaYikach Ishah), it does. He concurs with Rashi that Keturah and Hagar are actually one and the same. With this explanation an obvious question arises. Why is the purpose of the Torah’s change in names?
Chizkuni explains that before Avraham Avinu married Hagar a second time, Hagar did Teshuvah; hence, her name was changed to Keturah, a more befitting name synonymous with the word “Ketoret” or incense offering. Therefore, when Avraham remarried his wife after her return from exile, a different name is recorded. Still, many others disagree with this point and take a more straightforward approach, saying that a new name, Keturah, connotes a new woman that Avraham married.
Therefore, Ibn Ezra (ad loc. s.v. Keturah) disagrees with Rashi and Chizkuni. He states that this Keturah is not Hagar, but rather another woman whom Avraham decided to marry. Keturah was a Pilegesh, a concubine, as was Hagar. While Ibn Ezra seems to best fit in with the text, we are faced with another difficulty. After the tragic death of Sarah Imeinu, what prompted Avraham to quickly go out and marry another woman?
Radak (ad loc. s.v. VaYosef Avraham) answers this question. He says that Avraham in his old age wanted to increase his offspring in the world by marrying a third wife. Radak adds that Avraham was not particular when examining the character of his third wife considering that he already had a special son, Yitzchak, who was destined to carry the family legacy.
Another plausible explanation as to what motivated Avraham to marry another woman can be found by analyzing the events surrounding this episode. Immediately prior to the mentioning of Keturah, the Torah records that Yitzchak had married Rivkah. The previous Pasuk (24:67) ends off by stating that Rivkah reinvigorated the ideals of Sarah – she took over where Sarah left off. A famous Midrash relates that when Rivkah entered the tent of Sarah, the miracles that had occurred during Sarah’s lifetime and had ceased after her death all resumed. Now, Avraham is an old man and he sees his offspring, Yitzchak, continuing the traditions of Sarah following her death. Perhaps Avraham now wishes to have more children and to produce more offspring capable of continuing the legacy that he began to establish. Therefore, Avraham marries Keturah. Unfortunately for Avraham, the children he has with Keturah stated in the Pesukim become unknown figures in the course of Jewish history. Only Medan and Midyan play roles further in the Torah, as they develop to become two civilizations who are involved in the trading and sale of Yosef a few Parashiyot later, as well as in other future events.
At the end of the day, the mystery of who exactly Keturah is remains. Regardless, we can see that even when taking multiple explanations into account, they all portray Avraham Avinu in a positive light. While he might have succeeded only with Yitzchak, Avraham forever remains the Father of Many Nations.