Parsha Chayei Sarah 5773: Why Hevron’s Ma’arot HaMachpela for Sarah Imeinu’s Burial Place?

by Moshe Burt

Our Parsha opens by giving Sarah Imeinu’s age upon her death:

“Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years: the years of Sarah’s life.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 23, posuk 1)

Why was it necessary to break the 127 years into 3 sections rather than to merely say, as rendered in translation in The Living Torah Chumash by R’ Aryeh Kaplan z”l (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 23, posuk 1) :

“Sarah had lived to be 127 years old. These were the years of Sarah’s life.”

Rabbi Artscroll, in the large blue Stone Edition Chumash, page 107, cites Rashi on this 1st posuk:

Rashi explains that the repetition of years divides Sarah’s life into three periods, each with its own uniqueness [and each period shared the particular characteristics of its neighbor]. At a hundred, she was as sinless as a twenty-year-old, for until the age of twenty, a person does not suffer Heavenly punishment. And at twenty, she still had the wholesome beauty of a seven year old, who does not use cosmetics and whose beauty is natural (Chizkuni).

Later, the Artscroll large blue Stone Edition Chumash provides a glimpse at just how great Sarah Imeinu was by virtue of Yitzchak’s marriage to Rivka (Perek 24, posuk 67, and commentary pages 120-121):

“And Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sarah, his mother; he married Rivka, she became his wife, and he loved her; and thus Yitzchak was consoled after his mother.”

As long as Sarah was alive, a lamp burned in her tent from one erev Shabbos to the next, her dough was blessed and a cloud [signifying the Divine Presence; — Artscroll Chumash’s reference to Sh’mot 40:34] hung over her tent. When Sarah died, these blessings ceased, but when Rivka entered the tent, they resumed. Thus Midrash renders the verse: He brought her to the tent — she was Sarah, his mother (Rashi). This proved to Yitzchak that Rivka was the worthy successor of Sarah.

And so, the torch was passed. But there is another side to Rivka Imeinu — the attribute of unconditional kindness as in Avraham’s servant Eliezer and Rivka of our Parsha:

Before Eliezer had finished praying, Rivka… already came out (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 24, posuk 15) Rivka’s kindness in giving Avraham Avinu’s servant Eliezer his fill of water and in giving Eliezer’s camels water while Eliezer was in mid-tefillah (tefillah = prayer) showed clearly that Yitzchak’s shidduch — the next Ima of B’nei Yisrael — possessed the attribute of unconditional kindness, as did Sarah Imeinu.

Rivka didn’t frivolously pass by Eliezer and his camels and turn the other way or pass on her way, as would many young children, or young people. And Rivka’s kindness toward Eliezer and his camels was not driven by any ulterior motive — i.e. money and riches, pretty things, what she might receive in return. Rivka was driven by one thing alone in providing water for Eliezer and his camels — unconditional kindness to another human being.

We really don’t know enough about Sarah Imeinu, she was pretty much in the background to her high-profile kiruv and chessed-oriented spouse. But, in not knowing enough, we actually know a lot about her — the mover and shaker “behind the scenes”, the complement to ALL of Avraham Avinu’s efforts to bring the world close to The Creater and Ruler of the world. She was the partner willing to take risks for the team before Pharoah and Avimelech and was the inspiration, encouragement and support behind Avraham’s actions in kiruv and in each of his Divine Tests through to the Akeidat Yitzchak (Avraham’s following the Command to Sacrifice Yitzchak), and perhaps, though in absentia, including even the final test — the acquisition of the Ma’arot HaMachpela.

Sarah Imeinu’s midot and qualities are a paradigm of the Jewish Woman of Valor (Aishet Khayil) down through the ages. Indeed, the commentary of the Artscroll Siddur (pages 388-389) beneath the ritual Aishet Khayil melody tells:

The commentators agree that this passage — … a hymn… is… referring to either the Shekhinah, the Sabbath, the Torah, wisdom or soul. The very fact that the Jewish woman was chosen as the vehicle through which to describe such lofty concepts is in itself a profound tribute to her.

The word ‘Khayil’ as used in scripture has various connotations: organized military force, strength, wealth, skill, general competence, or devoutness. It implies the presence of whatever skills or attributes are needed to carry out the task at hand. The wife described here is energenic, righteous, and capable, hence an accomplished woman.

With enthusiasm and a sense of responsibility, she arises before dawn to be sure that she can prepare adequately for the needs of her household. She recognizes that only by caring for the physical well-being of her family can she be sure that they will grow spiritually.

Such a woman was our paradigm — Sarah Imeinu.

Rebbetzin Shira Smiles, in “Torah Tapestries” on Parsha Chayei Sarah (pages 71-78) brings points and sources which seem to connect Sarah Imeinu’s inspiration with the acquisition of the Ma’arot HaMachpela:

The Sages teach us that… stories follow one another to indicate that Sarah Imeinu died as a result of the Akeidah. Apparently, the Satan came to Sarah Imeinu to tell her that Avraham Avinu had almost slaughtered Yitzchak. This caused her soul to leave her and she died.

However, Rabbi Gedalyah Schorr (Sefer Ohr Gedalyahu, Breish’t, page 76) brings an insight that explains that this is not exactly what happened.

He says that Sarah Imeinu already knew before her visit from the Satan that Yitzchak was to be a korbon [sacrifice]; and she had supported her husband in fulfilling the will of Hashem. Therefore, her death was not brought on from shock; on the contrary, it was at her encounter with the Satan that she realized how close a connection with Hashem her husband and son must have achieved. It was her great desire to ascend to that level that led her to want to, so to speak, give up her soul to get there. HaKadosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One, Blessed Be He) simply agreed to abide by this holy request — and therefore took her soul.

Sarah Imeinu… the Netziv (Ha’amek Davar, Breish’t 23:1) describes as being even greater than Avraham Avinu — not in nevu’ah (prophecy), but in ruach hakodesh (spirit of holiness)…. had the ability to be connected to Hashem at all times, to be in a state of joy and able to feel His presence in every circumstance. Even at times when one would despair, she maintained her desire to connect with Hashem.

Rebbetzin Smiles then goes on to discuss Chevron’s Ma’arot HaMachpela citing Rabbi Moshe Wolfson (Wellsprings of Faith, page 51-52) who cites the Zohar:

The Zohar explains that… the Ma’arot HaMachpela is a copy of Yerushalayim. Both Yerushalayim and Chevron have the property of being an intermediary between the people and Hashem. Yerushalayim is a place that connects Heaven and earth; it connects this physical world with the spiritual world. Ma’arot HaMachpela in Chevron is also a point of connection. It is the entrance to Gan Eden and the point souls pass through on their way to the next world.

While Chevron and Yerushalayim are both pathways of connection, they manifest themselves in different ways.

In Yerushalayim there is an open and public revelation of Hashem. It is located on a mountain high up for all to see…. On the other hand, in Chevron Hashem is concealed. He is still very much in all His Glory but He is not standing atop a mountain. He is in a cave within a cave, and one must look very closely in order to see the connection.

So just as Avraham Avinu was high profile and “bigger than life” doing kiruv and chessed — the Gadol HaDor of his generations, Sarah was his support, behind the scenes — concealed, yet the inspiration and support behind his efforts. One could say that Sarah Imeinu was the wind beneath Avraham Avinu’s proverbial wings, as was the title to that classic song “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler. Thus it would seem that Sarah Imeinu’s attributes inspired the efforts and costs expended by Avraham Avinu to acquire the Ma’arot HaMachpela — later the burial place of Avraham Aveinu himself, as well as Yitzchak Avinu and Rivka Imeinu and Yaakov and Leah.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.