Parshat Chayei Sarah 5780: Avraham, the Cave of Machpeila and a Proper Burial for Sarah Imeinu

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Chayei Sarah is being sponsored by Yirmi and Rochelle Gold and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated in Memory of Lilui Nishmas Yirmi’s Mother Baila bat Benyamin and dedicated for full, complete refuah shleima for Rav Chaim Zev ben Kayla (Rav Malinowitz). To the Gold family, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Chayei Sarah 5780: Avraham, the Cave of Machpeila and a Proper Burial for Sarah Imeinu

by Moshe Burt

The sefer “The Jewish Time Line Encyclopedia, by Mattis Kantor relates that Sarah was born in the year 1958 from creation and passed in the year 2084, equaling one hundred and twenty-six years. We learn, however, that Sarah Imeinu lived for one hundred and twenty-seven years. (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 23, posuk 1) The sefer goes on to say (page 17):

Yitzchak was 36, or 37 depending on the day in Nissan that the Akeida took place….

Sarah heard that Avraham had taken Yitzchak to offer him as a sacrifice [korban], and she traveled to search for them. When she reached Hevron, she was informed that he had not been sacrificed. The good news was too overwhelming for her, and she died. (citing Breish’t, Perek 23, posukim 1-2, Rashi/Mid.Rab.Br.58.4)

As noted in the Parshat Hashevua for Vayeira, this account of Sarah’s passing was similar to one this author heard from a tour guide during his first trip to Israel some forty-four years ago.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides a context, questions and various understandings regarding acquisition of the Cave of Machpeila (Ma’arat HaMachpeila) for Sarah’s burial in his sefer, “Unlocking The Torah Text”, Volume One, Sefer Breish’t, pages 101-102):

Parshat Chayei Sarah opens with the death of Sarah and the purchase of the Cave of Machpeila by Avraham as a burial site. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 23, posukim 1-20)

Torah dedicates no less than twenty sentences to the negotiations between Avraham and the Hittites [particularly with Ephron ben Zohar, the Hittite] concerning the purchase of the Cave of Machpeila as a burial site for the patriarchal family. This is more text than was dedicated to the entire story of Akeidat Yitzchak. (Rabbi Goldin providing the posukim re: the Akeidat Yitzchak, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 22, posukim 1-19)

A variety of approaches are suggested by the classical commentators. The Talmud, in a passage echoed elsewhere in Midrashic literature, sees the entire story of the purchase of the Cave of Machpeila as a testament to Avraham’s loyalty and fortitude. Even the Satan has to admit: “I have traveled across the whole world and have found no one as faithful as Your servant [Avraham]. You promised him, ‘Arise, walk the length and breadth of the land for I will give it to you.’ Yet when the time came to bury Sarah and he could not find a site for her burial, he did not question Your ways.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Bava Batra 15b)

Some authorities actually suggest that this episode is one of the ten tests administered to Avraham throughout his lifetime. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ramban on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 24, posuk 19)

Other sources see this… as… record for perpetuity of the clear claim of the B’nei Yisrael to specific areas of the land of Israel. The details serve to underscore and cement the legal, contractual nature of our ownership. (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Rabbah, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 79, posuk 7)

How ironic that in our time the city of Hevron and the Cave of Machpeila have once again become the flashpoints for violent dispute between Israel and her neighbors. The Torah’s recordation of Avraham’s purchase of this land remains frighteningly prophetic. We are told that we will need, across the ages, every possible proof that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews.

Rav Goldin now discusses two-word phrase used by Avraham as he negotiates with Ephron and the Hittites — “ger v’toshav” (“Unlocking The Torah Text”, Volume One, Sefer Breish’t, page 103):

Avraham… opens the dialogue with the Hittites dwelling in Hevron: “Ger v’toshav anochi imachem,” “I am a stranger and a citizen together with you.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 23, posuk 4)

Avraham’s self-description is, therefore, inherently self-contradictory. Is he a citizen or a stranger? It would seem that he cannot be both.

Rashi immediately notes the problem and offers two possible solutions:

On a pashut pshat level, Avraham is saying, “I am a stranger from a different land, who has come to live with you.”

On a Midrashic level, Avraham is saying, “It is up to you. If you treat me well, I will deal with you as I am but a stranger who has no rights to the land. If not, I will consider myself a citizen, and take this property by law.”

Rabbi Goldin now brings further understanding (“Unlocking The Torah Text”, Volume One, Sefer Breish’t, page 102)

Other authorities understand this narrative [the negotiations for purchasing the Cave of Machpeila] as underscoring the deep respect that must be shown, according to Halacha, towards the dead. With meticulous detail, Torah records Avraham’s extraordinary efforts to secure a proper burial for Sarah.

From that time onward, Avraham’s descendants will continue to care for those who pass from this world with honor and dignity. The Chatam Sofer goes so far as to learn from this episode the Halachic requirement to purchase a burial plot, rather than simply receive it as a gift. (Rabbi Goldin citing Responsa Chatam Sofer Yoreh Deah 332)

Rav Goldin concludes (“Unlocking The Torah Text”, Volume One, Sefer Breish’t, page109):

Avraham, through this two-word phrase [ger v’toshav], not only describes himself but also delineates the place his descendants will take in society throughout the ages. To survive and succeed the Jew must be both a stranger and a citizen in any country where he lives, participating in the culture which surrounds him while maintaining his own unique identity.

In this author’s view, it seems that Rav Goldin’s concept of a Jew’s self-definition as a ger v’toshav, would provide lessons for we olim today. We live in Eretz Yisrael with native-born Israelis, yet there is importance in maintaining our own self-definition, positive morals and midos — the attributes of ger v’toshav that we acquired in our previous abodes, knowing that by our self-definition we have much positive to add to society in Israel.

May we, the B’nei 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 and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — which can only occur when he is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five years ago. 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 prevent Chas V’Challila 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 Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.