Avraham purchased the lot and then buried his beloved life-partner, Sarah. But this was no ordinary field in the city of Hebron, this was the Me’aras HaMachpeyla, the cave in which our patriarchs and matriarchs would be laid to rest alongside Adam and Chava.
“And so, the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, facing Mamre, was established (as Abraham’s possession). [This included] the field and the cave that was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within its entire border around (Bereishis 23:17).”
The phrase “was established” is the translation of the Hebrew word, va’yakam. This word can also be translated as “stood up” or “was elevated.” Rashi explains: the field of Ephron…was established: Heb. וַיָקָם, lit. it arose. It experienced an elevation, for it left the possession of a simple person [and went] into the possession of a king (Gen. Rabbah 48:8).
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1902-1994) explains that as soon as the land’s ownership was transferred to Avraham it experienced an elevation, even before Sarah was buried there. The mere fact that the land was owned by a holy person, endowed the land with elevated holiness. The Rebbe explains that the same is true for every individual. When a person comes to a particular place and he wants to make that location an “Eretz Yisroel,” a land of holiness and spiritual accomplishment, the intention to accomplish something great infuses holiness into the new location.
I believe that Rashi and the Rebbe are teaching us two dramatic, inter-connected lessons. Who we are impacts what we have. I often assume that my personal holiness really only impacts me, or perhaps, those closest to me. But I learn from the statement of Rashi that my personalistic holiness impacts everything from my family to my possessions. Who we are leaves an imprint on everything within our life. Who I am has an impact on my children and community and on some level leaves a mark on my field as well. The field of Ephron was elevated because it had a new saintly owner. But there is an additional dimension as well. We have the ability to infuse holiness and sanctity even into the earth we walk on if we have intent to accomplish great things. The moment I desire to do a mitzvah, the instant I decide I want to accomplish something of significance, the minute I am resolute to fix something that is broken (either in myself or the world), I infuse holiness into land under my feet. That very land upon which I stand is transformed into something holy and sacred. In that moment of holy cognition, it is transferred from Ephron to Avraham.
The meaningful and holy actions we engage in and even the beautiful and spiritual thoughts we have, impact the world around us in more profound ways than we will ever know.
And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her. And Abraham arose from before his dead, and he spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, “I am a stranger and an inhabitant with you. Give me burial property with you, so that I may bury my dead from before me (Genesis 23:2-4).”
Avraham had lost his beloved life partner. Sarah was by his side from the beginning. Before “Lech Lecha” when Avraham was a spiritual wanderer seeking out truth, Sarah was always there. When God commanded Avraham to leave all he had known, when upon entering Canaan they encountered famine and relocated to Egypt, throughout years of childlessness, all of the ups and downs, Sarah remained a devoted partner to her beloved Avraham. But it was now that Avraham had to say goodbye. It was upon him to see to the needs of her burial as this last display of love and honor in this world. Avraham came to Kiryat Arba “to eulogize Sarah and bewail (cry for) her.”
The Tiferes Shlomo (Rebbe of Radomsk, Rabbi Shlomo HaKohen Rabinovitch, 1801-1866) asks a simple question. “The verse tells us that Avraham came to eulogize and cry for Sarah, yet the very next verse says, “And Avraham arose from before his dead” and went to speak to the people of Heth. It would appear that although Avraham intended to eulogize and cry, he never actually did so. What happened? Why did Avraham refrain from eulogizing his beloved wife?” The Rebbe provides a profound answer. As Avraham prepared to begin eulogizing his precious partner, his mind began to fill with thoughts. “Sarah was so righteous and pious. She suffered so much throughout life, and yet, her belief never wavered.
She raised a most holy and virtuous son, a son who would ultimately take on the mantle of his father and continue to be the ambassador of God in this world. And now she is gone. God asked me to sacrifice my son, and Yitzchak and I went and willingly complied; isn’t that enough for you God? Must you take the other half of my soul as well?” Avraham felt a wave of anger, animosity, and resentment towards God, building inside of him. In that moment, he stopped. Avraham understood that I must keep these feelings in check and not allow them to overpower me. I do not understand the ways of God, but I know He loves me and that somehow this is all is for the best. Avraham never delivered a eulogy as he was fearful that his pain over the loss of his wife would taint his relationship with God. Thus, the verse indicates that he intended to eulogize and cry but stopped himself and attended to the details of Sarah Imeynu’s burial.
There are profound and meaningful lessons which emerge from the Rebbe’s words. Events occur in life which confound and perplex us. But like Avraham, we must learn to accept that the Divine plan will often appear illogical and random to us. However, we cannot allow this lack of clarity to tarnish or erode our relationship with our beloved Father. There is a time to question, but then comes the time to accept and move forward.
But there is a second lesson which is not limited to the realm of theological thought. At times, negative thoughts fill our heads and hearts. It can be a feeling of inadequacy, failure, or just a general feeling of not measuring up. At times we feel like damaged goods as a result of our past mistakes. These feelings can rob you of hope, optimism, and a desire to accomplish. Negative thoughts can overtake you to the point where you no longer sense any shred of personalistic good. Too often, we allow these negative thoughts to take control. We allow anger at ourselves or others to dominate relationships. We allow feelings of inadequacy to prevent us from trying new things. We must muster Avraham Avinu strength to identify the negative thoughts which can overtake and paralyze us, and we must shut them down.
While it is true that I cannot always control what swirls around in my mind, I can choose to allow those thoughts to dominate me or to find strength and push them to my internal periphery.
Our beloved matriarch, Sarah, never received her eulogy, but she received something much greater. Her death brought us the strength to continue our relationship with God even if we are beset by questions. Sarah’s death gives us the strength to let go of the negative thoughts which seek to hold us back. May the lives we lead and the accomplishments we accrue be an ongoing eulogy and zechus for our holy mother.
Finding a suitable marriage partner has always been a challenge. To find a partner whom you could love, cherish and build a life with is no small task. To find someone who shares your ideals and beliefs can be challenging. For Yitzchak the challenge was compounded in that he was surrounded by idolaters. Avraham and Sarah began their journey together. They found God and grew together. Yitzchak, their physical and spiritual progeny would have to find someone who would help him continue to build what his parents had started. Avraham tasked Eliezer with finding a wife for Yitzchak and sent him back to Avraham’s ancestral homeland. Avraham provided explicit instructions on the parameters – the young woman must come from his extended family. Eliezer set out, arrived in Aram Naharaim and devised the following plan:
And he said, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please cause to happen to me today, and perform loving kindness with my master, Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the water fountain, and the daughters of the people of the city are coming out to draw water. And it will be, [that] the maiden to whom I will say, ‘Lower your pitcher and I will drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ her have You designated for Your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that You have performed loving kindness with my master.” (Bereishis 24:12-14)
Although Avraham never told Eliezer what qualities to look for, Eliezer intuitively understood that the next matriarch must possesses the attribute of chessed, kindness. If she is so kind that she responds to the request of a stranger for a drink and then offers to water the entire flock of camels – she is indeed righteous and kind enough to be the wife of Yitzchak and join the Abrahamitic dynasty.
We know that chessed is exceptionally important. As the Mishna states:
The world stands on the three things, on Torah, on Avoda (sacrificial service and prayer) and on Gemilus Chasadim (kindness and the performance of charitable acts).” (Ethics of our Father 1:2)
Chessed is one of the pillars which supports the world and humanity. But would this value of chessed require a young woman to water a flock of camels? Let’s assume Eliezer brought with him at least 3 camels. A camel can drink up to 20 gallons at a time, that would be 60 gallons. This would have required Rivkah to run back and forth to the well multiple times – was this a fair expectation? Even in the realm of chessed we find limitations. We are obligated to be charitable, yet, one is not permitted to give away more than 1/5 of one’s wealth for fear of impoverishing one’s self. There are limitations even on kindness. Furthermore, the text never records that Rivkah performed this incredibly selfless act of watering the flock. How are we to understand this strange “test” devised by Eliezer?
The Beis HaLevi (Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik 1820-1892) explains that Eliezer was not only looking for a Baalas Chessed, he was looking for someone who would perform chessed with wisdom. In life, it is not enough to the do the right thing – one must do the right thing in the right way. When Eliezer went up to Rivka and asked her for a drink, he wanted to see what she would do with the remaining water in the jug. To take the rest of the water home to her family would be irresponsible (after all she did not know the identity of this stranger) but to spill out the remaining water would be an affront to this stranger. How did Rivka manage this situation? After she offered Eliezer to drink, she then offered the remainder of the water to his camels (she did not offer to water the entire flock – just to provide the camels with the remaining water in the jug). This was the “test” devised by Eliezer and it was this test that Rivkah passed with flying colors. Rivkah knew how to do Chessed with Chochma (kindness with wisdom).
There are times when we try to help another but forget to be sensitive to the needs of the other. Chessed doesn’t simply mean the performance of good deeds – rather, it means the performance of good deeds in a sensitive fashion. There are times when people need help but feel awkward accepting it. There are times when people need assistance but can’t ask for it and sometimes can’t acknowledge it when it is received.
People are complex, we are complex and when helping another we must think not only of the act of chessed but how the act can be packaged in order to preserve the dignity of self-respect of the other.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur.
A new series on Parsha, Rabbi Silber shares some of the basic highlights from the weekly torah portion.