Parshas Chayei Sarah
Avrohom Avinu sets off in search for a burial site for Sarah Imeinu, with his eyes set on buying Mearas Hamachpeila from Efron. Efron tells Avrohom Avinu that he need not buy it from him, rather, that he may have it as a present. However, Avrohom stubbornly insists upon buying it. There is an obvious question here. Why did Avrohom find it necessary to purchase Mearas Hamachpeila, rather than just receive it as a present, when either way he would properly own it?
In Derech Hashem, the Ramchal discusses a very essential idea. He asks: if Hashem only wants to do good for us, why doesn’t He just place us directly in Olam Habah, where we would bask in the presence of the Shechina and know only the ultimate pleasure and good?
In this explanation, the Ramchal compares the process of acquiring Olam Habah to the process of making bread. If one toils over growing wheat, grinding the wheat into flour, and then forming dough out of the flour to be baked into bread, he finds tremendous pleasure in consuming the bread—because it is a result of his ‘effort’. However, if one were to receive the food he eats with no effort on his part, the bread would be relatively meaningless. Likewise, if one were to constantly receive goodness without working for it in some way, he would feel ill at ease; embarrassed and undeserving. So too, says the Ramchal, would it be if we were to be placed in Olam Habah without having toiled in Olam Hazeh.
Similarly, in the end of this week’s Parsha, Avrohom Avinu gave “presents” to the sons of his concubines. Rashi says that these “presents” refer to all of the presents he received over the course of his life. Rashi further explains that Avrohom Avinu gave away these “presents” because he wished to have no benefit from possessions that he attained through no effort of his own. It would seem that Avrohom Avinu only wanted what he deserved.
We live in a society that has lost focus on the individual’s sense of self value. We have come to a point where we prefer to receive things for free, rather than working for them. We need to realize the importance of earning and deserving what we have. Only then can we truly enjoy the process of life, and thus, the rewards with which that process provides us.
This week’s Sedra is replete with stirring episodes. In two of these episodes, Avrohom Avinu’s approach appears somewhat irrational.
In the first of these, Avrohom comes back from to Beér Sheva to discover that Sarah Imeinu passed away in Kiryas Arba. Avrohom Avinu then travels the 50 km/30 mi journey to Kiryas Arba in order to eulogize and bury Sarah Imeinu. When he reaches Kiryas Arba (Chevron) he seeks out a grave site for Sarah Imeinu. Avrohom has a particular site in mind, Mearas Hamachpeila, that belonged to Ephron Hachiti. Avrohom approaches him and he tells Avrohom Avinu that he may bury Sarah Imeinu on his land for free. Avrohom Avinu insists that he wants to pay for the land itself – not just one particular gravesite, but the entire area surrounding it. Ephron agrees and sells it to Avrohom Avinu for a huge sum of money. There is an obvious question here: If what Avrohom wanted to do was to purchase land, then why didn’t he do so? What does a gravesite have to do with his desire to buy a plot of land? Nobody ever feels it necessary to buy an estate in order to bury a loved one – everybody buries their loved ones in traditional cemeteries in a small spot of land. What made Avrohom Avinu approach the issue of the burial (site) in such a peculiar manner?
The second incident in which Avrohom Avinu’s approach seems odd is that of finding Yitzchok a wife. Avrohom Avinu is very particular that Eliezer find Yitzchok a wife from Avrohom Avinu’s native land, and more specifically, from Avrohom Avinu’s own kin. Avrohom Avinu also stresses that Yitzchok should not, under any circumstance, marry a Canaanite woman. However particular Avrohom was about the origins of Yitzchok’s wife, he was yet even more concerned that Yitzchok not leave Eretz-Yisroel – even for ‘Miss Right’. Here again, the issue demands a question: if it was so important to Avrohom Avinu that his son marry a woman from the right origins, and if doing so entailed Yitzchok merely crossing over the border into a neighboring country, why could Yitzchok then not do so? Furthermore, since the entire future of Klal-Yisroel depended on who Yitzchok would marry, would this not be all the more reason why Avrohom should have allowed Yitzchok to travel in order to get married?
In last week’s Sedra the Torah tells us that as Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yishmael, and Eliezer approached Har Hamoriah. Avrohom instructed Yishmael and Eliezer to wait with, “עם“(pronounced “Im”), the donkeys. However, the Medrash makes a play on words, pronouncing the word as “Am”, meaning people. The Medrash explains that Avrohom and Yitzchok were both able to see Hashem’s Divine Presence upon Har Hamoriah while Yishmael and Eliezer lacked this ability. It was this inability to connect with the Divine Presence that led Avrohom (according to the Medrash) to allude to them as being empty as donkeys – that they were “people the likes of donkeys”.
Avrohom Avinu saw Eretz Yisroel in a different light—a land in which every aspect of life was different. To Avrohom Avinu, Eretz Yisroel wasn’t a land, but rather a relationship with Hashem. By living in Eretz-Yisroel, one lives with Hashem.
While Ephron was talking about burial plots, Avrohom was talking about strengthening his bond to Eretz-Yisroel – his bond to Hashem through the act of burying Sarah Imeinu in Eretz Yisroel. He saw finding a burial spot as another opportunity to purchase land in Eretz-Yisroel—the more he could contribute to establish a permanent presence there, the better.
No matter how crucial finding a wife for Yitzchok was – living with Hashem was yet more important.
While some of us may not have been presented with the opportunity to live with Hashem, would we take it up if the opportunity arose, or would we not realize it because we don’t realize that we can live with Hashem? Do we realize that there is nothing more crucial than this?
Our desire to have possession of and live in Eretz-Yisroel, should stem not so much from a desire to have merely a Jewish homeland, but rather from a yearning to cleave to Hashem – to live with Hashem, in His land. A Jew’s homeland is with Hashem.
This week’s Sedra describes Eliezer bringing Rivka back to Eretz Yisroel to be Yitzchok Avinu’s wife. The Torah tells us that when Rivka saw Yitzchak for the first time she fell off the camel she was riding (see the Meforshim who explain it means she bowed out of humility and not that she literally fell down). The Torah tells us that Rivka then asked Eliezer who this person they saw was. When Eliezer responded that this was Yitzchok she covered her hair.
This whole episode is difficult to sort out. Rivka was chosen for her Tzidkus and tznius. Since this was so, why then would she all of a sudden become more conscious upon seeing Yitzchok? Furthermore, in the event she was already married (i.e. if Eliezer already married her by being a shaliach of Yitzchok Avinu) it would then have been forbidden for Eliezer to see her with her hair uncovered. On the other hand, however, it would have been permissible for Yitzchok to see her with her hair uncovered. And if so, why was it that the whole time she was with Eliezer she didn’t cover her hair and now that she was meeting Yitzchok she suddenly began to do so?
Whether Rivka, when she first saw Yitzchok Avinu, literally fell off her camel or did so figuratively (bowed out of modesty), it is clear that she was filled with awe at the sight of his holy appearance.
There is no doubt that before Rivka Imeinu saw Yitzchok she was Tzanua. Her respect and awe for Yitzchok’s Kedusha, however, caused her to go a bit further than what would normally have been required from her. Rivka Imeinu was about to begin a most intimate relationship with Yitzchok Avinu, and all the intimacy notwithstanding, she understood that with such a special and holy persona she had to act differently.
We are Hashem’s Chosen Nation; we are Hashem’s Holy Nation. We are close to Hashem and have access to the holiest people and places on the face of the earth. Eretz Yisroel is holy and there are special places in Eretz-Yisroel that have even extra Kedusha (see Keilim chapter 1). As much as we might feel at home in a particular Shul or Beis Medrash we must remember and recognize that such a place is special and holy. Our special and intimate relationships not withstanding we must approach all Holy people and mekomos Hakedoshim with extra Tznius, with awe and respect. We must respect Eretz Yisroel. We must respect Lomdei Torah and especially our Rabbonim and Torah leaders.
This week's Haftorah is from Shmuel. It tells us of Dovid Hamelech growing old. The Meforshim explain the reason for reading this Haftorah as being that the Parsha refers to Avrohom Avinu growing old. The taking note of this aspect is interesting, especially in light of the fact that aging is a natural and normal phenomenon. And, even if there was something special about Avrohom Avinu's growing old, why is it so significant that the Haftorah is chosen so as to mirror this development?
Later on in our Parsha we are told that Avrohom Avinu remarried and had more children. The Passuk refers to the more recent wife as a concubine. The passuk further tells us that Avrohom Avinu gave presents to the "Bnei Hapilagshim (children of the concubines)" and that he then sent all the "Bnei Hapilagshim" off to faraway places. This is clearly an act by Avrohom Avinu to exclude all of his other children from his inheritance. Avrohom Avinu was singling Yitzchak Avinu out as his sole heir.
The Haftorah tells us that when Dovid Hamelech became old he appointed Shlomo Hamelech to be his heir. Dovid Hamelech was essentially also appointing Shlomo to the exclusion of all his other children.
While most people grow old, Avrohom Avinu and Dovid Hamelech were different. Both Avrohom and Dovid seized the opportunity to act so as to insure the best future possible. It is thus that their aging prompted them to secure the future of their legacies.
We all grow old and we all move on. We all grow a day older each day. The question is what do we do with our growth? Do we harness it and make various resolutions or do we just let life pass by and take its own course? Do we ensure a better tomorrow or do we let things fall apart (so long as it is not in our life time)?
We must harness our aging and view it as the experience for success. We must create a better tomorrow.