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Posts Tagged ‘burial’

Chayei Sarah

Posted by rabbiart on November 24, 2016

After Yitzhak is born Sarah sees him playing with his brother Ishmael. She tells Avraham to expell both Ishmael and his mother, so there will be no question as to who inherits. Avraham thinks it is a bad idea, but HaShem tells him to do everything Sarah says.  We wonder how this can be. She seems to be demanding an act of cruelty. Has she no bond with either mother or child?

In our parsha, and the comments on it, we find out how extraordinary a woman Sarah was. She is universally lauded by everyone who comments on the first verse. As the well known midrash says in part, even at age 100 she was sinless as a twenty year old (which according to Rashi is below the legal age of responsibility).  

Wouldn’t you know it, Daf Yomi right now has a discussion about when husband – or wife – should take the lead.  It won’t come as a surprise to find out how the tradition apportions the responsibility.  In worldly affairs and matters of Torah its the husband.  But when it comes to the household and everything connected to it – the husband must heed the voice of his wife.  As Avraham was instructed – shma b’kolah.Readers who are Moms have probably already reacted “well yeah” when it comes to husbands listening and obeying. Dads, probably not so much. More convincing might be required.

As luck would have it (which is to say its  not luck at all but fore-ordained) today’s Daf Yomi speaks directly to this concern. “Rav Pappa said to Abeye, ‘There is a popular saying. If your wife is short, bend over and whisper with her.'” In other words, seek her counsel and follow it.(Bava Metzia 59a) Breshit Raba brings a verse from Tehillim 37: “HaShem knows the years of the pure (temimim)”.  The “pure” is Sarah; she was pure, all of her years were pure.

The Kedushat Levi brings even more explanations. Based on an outburst by the childless Rachel, the gemara says (Nedarim 64) that a woman who has not delivered a live child is considered as dead. As is a man who is childless. We see that Sarah worked, without sin, for 90 years. Never did she complain about being childless. Sure, she laughed.   Like each of the matriarchs, she started out barren and ultimately bore fruit. Even Leah, who seemed to pop them out with ease, experienced difficulty at first.

Several commentators mention that it had been 37 years since Sarah gave birth to Yitzhak.Then Or HaHayim reminds us that Sarah died upon hearing the news about Yitzhak. 

Could this extended episode be a case of midah k’neged midah? Sarah sends a son into the wilderness where death seems like a foregone conclusion.  Avraham takes a son on a journey to certain death.  Both sons live.  But it seems someone in our story must die.  Is there a mother anywhere in the world who would not sacrifice herself for her child? 

The great scholar Nehama Leibowitz pointed out the connection between the first and second Lech L’Cha to Avraham.  In the first he cuts off his past; in the second he must give up his future.  For Sarah, Akedat Yitzhak is past, present and future all rolled into one.  When she hears that her son is sacrificed, she feels her entire life taken from her.

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Buying land in The Land

Posted by rabbiart on November 20, 2008

The alert reader (that means all of us, right?) will immediately notice the strange opening of our Parshah.  It is titled חַיֵּי שָׂרָה (hayei sarah – Sarah’s life), but it really begins with Sarah’s death. Her husband, Avraham, mourns and weeps for her, and only then goes to find a place where she can be buried. We are more accustomed to a grieving process where burial takes place first – and immediately – and is followed by mourning and grieving.

Another famous negotiation takes place, this time over the purchase of a burial plot that remains with us to this day. According  to Speiser (The Anchor Bible – Genesis) Avraham is a resident alien and thus not allowed to purchase land. (Sound familiar?)  Once again, we see how the Torah contains and foreshadows everything in human experience.  Avraham is the first Jewish (loosely speaking, as the term had not yet come into parlance) to ארץ ישראל  (aretz yisrael – The Land of Israel).  He seeks to acquire clear legal title to the land. Some 2000 years later, the first Zionist settlers come back to The Land, and again go through the process of acquiring legal title from the then current landowners. For some strange reason, their efforts do not go as smoothly as did Avraham’s, but that is a different discussion.

Speiser explains that Avraham’s purchase is a multi-leveled transaction.  He must first get permission from the local government (those who sit at the gate, see verse 10), and only then can he attempt a transaction with Ephron.  Ephron extracts an exorbitant price, to be sure.  According to Rashi, Ephron rose in status with the local elders, because Avraham needed to buy his land.

Avraham has (perhaps) been revealed to have serious negotiating skills. After all, didn’t he bargain with HaShem over the innocent and guilty of Sodom and Gemorrah?   On the one hand, he refuses the offer of burial land by way of gift, on the other hand he pays an exorbitant price. Why does he accept without question Ephron’s price for a gravesite? One possible conclusion we might make: Once again, the miracle of how our ancient text speaks directly to our lives is revealed.  Don’t wait until you really need them to buy funeral plots and make arrangements for burials.

דבר אחר (davar acher – an  interpretation that is different).  Note that in verse six the local inhabitants offer for all of Avraham’s “dead” to be buried in any of their graves.  What might it have meant had Avraham accepted this offer?   They say:

נְשִׂיא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה בְּתוֹכֵנוּ– בְּמִבְחַר קְבָרֵינוּ, קְבֹר אֶת-מֵתֶךָ; אִישׁ מִמֶּנּוּ, אֶת-קִבְרוֹ לֹא-יִכְלֶה מִמְּךָ מִקְּבֹר מֵתֶךָ

a prince of elohim you are among us — in your choice of our grave sites, any one of us – his gravesites he would not withhold from you – to bury your dead

How might the lives of Avraham and the Hittites been intertwined had Avraham accepted this offer? Shall we allow this text to think about how the lives of Israelis and Palestinians – Jews and Arabs – might be intertwined in our time had Avraham chosen a different course, and that model something that both peoples of these people (who of course share these stories) were able to follow?

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