Marc Chagall, "Abraham weeping for Sarah"
"Now as then, the divine promise does not mean that we can leave the future to G-d. That idea has no place in the imaginative world of the first book of the Torah. To the contrary: the covenant is G-d’s challenge to us, not ours to G-d. The meaning of the events of Chayei Sarah is that Abraham realised that G-d was depending on him. Faith does not mean passivity. It means the courage to act and never to be deterred. The future will happen, but it is we – inspired, empowered, given strength by the promise—who must bring it about." Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, zt"l
The parsha is entitled "Chayei" (the life of) Sarah, but opens with her death, the first death and burial among the Jewish people noted in the Bible. Abraham, in the midst of mourning, purchases a field from the Hittites that has a cave (Machpelah) for a burial place for Sarah. He then instructs his servant Eliezer, to find a wife for his son Isaac. What is the Torah telling us about the flow of these stories?
(א) וַיִּהְיוּ֙ חַיֵּ֣י שָׂרָ֔ה מֵאָ֥ה שָׁנָ֛ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְשֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים שְׁנֵ֖י חַיֵּ֥י שָׂרָֽה׃ (ב) וַתָּ֣מָת שָׂרָ֗ה בְּקִרְיַ֥ת אַרְבַּ֛ע הִ֥וא חֶבְר֖וֹן בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ׃
(1) Sarah’s lifetime—the span of Sarah’s life—came to one hundred and twenty-seven years. (2) Sarah died in Kiriath-arba—now Hebron—in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.
Rabbi Chiya said that it has been explained (why the death of Sarah was written). Isaac was 37 years old when he was bound, and because he was bound, Sarah died, as is written, "And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her" (Gen. 23:2). From where did he come? From mount Moriyah, where he was binding Isaac. The 37 years from the time that Isaac was born until the time he was bound were the life of Sarah, for "וַיִּהְי''וּ (was)" is 37 years in numerical value, the years from Isaac's birth to his binding. (In order to mention this, Sarah's death is mentioned in the Torah).
Look at the Hebrew word for year, Shanah, in the first verse from Genesis above. What do you notice? If you were commenting on this, what might you say are the reasons for this?
The Hebrew Biblical text offers a different image of the word. The Hebrew word "livkhot", "to cry", is written with a tiny letter "kaf", and the sages have offered interpretations of this. What would your interpretation be? .
חיוב ההספד וגודל שכרו וכיצד ועל מי מספידין. ובו כ' סעיפים:
It is an important religious duty to lament the dead fittingly;1Shab. 105b. and the religious duty [is fulfilled] when one raises his voice [in funereal lamentations] to utter over him [the dead] words which break the heart in order to cause much weeping, and to mention his praise.2Ber. 6b and Rashi
“And Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and weep over her” (Genesis 23:2), indicating that Sarah’s funeral was delayed until Abraham returned from Beersheba to Hebron to eulogize her. And if you say that a eulogy is delivered due to the honor of the living, would they have unduly delayed burying Sarah due to Abraham’s honor? The Gemara rejects this argument: It was satisfactory to Sarah herself that her funeral was delayed so that Abraham could be honored by eulogizing her. Since Sarah herself would prefer that Abraham eulogize her, there was no disgrace in waiting for Abraham to arrive.
(ג) וַיָּ֙קָם֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֣י מֵת֑וֹ וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר אֶל־בְּנֵי־חֵ֖ת לֵאמֹֽר׃ (ד) גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁ֥ב אָנֹכִ֖י עִמָּכֶ֑ם תְּנ֨וּ לִ֤י אֲחֻזַּת־קֶ֙בֶר֙ עִמָּכֶ֔ם וְאֶקְבְּרָ֥ה מֵתִ֖י מִלְּפָנָֽי׃ (ה) וַיַּעֲנ֧וּ בְנֵי־חֵ֛ת אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֥ר לֽוֹ׃ (ו) שְׁמָעֵ֣נוּ ׀ אֲדֹנִ֗י נְשִׂ֨יא אֱלֹהִ֤ים אַתָּה֙ בְּתוֹכֵ֔נוּ בְּמִבְחַ֣ר קְבָרֵ֔ינוּ קְבֹ֖ר אֶת־מֵתֶ֑ךָ אִ֣ישׁ מִמֶּ֔נּוּ אֶת־קִבְר֛וֹ לֹֽא־יִכְלֶ֥ה מִמְּךָ֖ מִקְּבֹ֥ר מֵתֶֽךָ׃ (ז) וַיָּ֧קָם אַבְרָהָ֛ם וַיִּשְׁתַּ֥חוּ לְעַם־הָאָ֖רֶץ לִבְנֵי־חֵֽת׃ (ח) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר אִתָּ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר אִם־יֵ֣שׁ אֶֽת־נַפְשְׁכֶ֗ם לִקְבֹּ֤ר אֶת־מֵתִי֙ מִלְּפָנַ֔י שְׁמָע֕וּנִי וּפִגְעוּ־לִ֖י בְּעֶפְר֥וֹן בֶּן־צֹֽחַר׃ (ט) וְיִתֶּן־לִ֗י אֶת־מְעָרַ֤ת הַמַּכְפֵּלָה֙ אֲשֶׁר־ל֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֖ר בִּקְצֵ֣ה שָׂדֵ֑הוּ בְּכֶ֨סֶף מָלֵ֜א יִתְּנֶ֥נָּה לִ֛י בְּתוֹכְכֶ֖ם לַאֲחֻזַּת־קָֽבֶר׃
(3) Then Abraham rose from beside his dead, and spoke to the Hittites, saying, (4) “I am a resident alien among you; sell me a burial site among you, that I may remove my dead for burial.” (5) And the Hittites replied to Abraham, saying to him, (6) “Hear us, my lord: you are the elect of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold his burial place from you for burying your dead.” (7) Thereupon Abraham bowed low to the people of the land, the Hittites, (8) and he said to them, “If it is your wish that I remove my dead for burial, you must agree to intercede for me with Ephron son of Zohar. (9) Let him sell me the cave of Machpelah that he owns, which is at the edge of his land. Let him sell it to me, at the full price, for a burial site in your midst.”
At the very beginning of Abraham’s speech, he announces his vulnerable legal status as a “sojourner and settler,” a legal term that means “resident alien,” but this formal description does not indicate the true nature of what is going on. What are the tensions that might be evident between being a 'sojourner' and a resident? What might have been made more challenging by the fact that Abraham knew the whole land has been promised to him and his seed?
“Grant”—literally “give”—is used instead of the obvious word "sell". Why might this word have been avoided? Finally, Abraham speaks of acquiring a “holding” (‘auzah), a word that clearly indicates permanent legal possession.
(י) וְעֶפְר֥וֹן יֹשֵׁ֖ב בְּת֣וֹךְ בְּנֵי־חֵ֑ת וַיַּעַן֩ עֶפְר֨וֹן הַחִתִּ֤י אֶת־אַבְרָהָם֙ בְּאָזְנֵ֣י בְנֵי־חֵ֔ת לְכֹ֛ל בָּאֵ֥י שַֽׁעַר־עִיר֖וֹ לֵאמֹֽר׃ (יא) לֹֽא־אֲדֹנִ֣י שְׁמָעֵ֔נִי הַשָּׂדֶה֙ נָתַ֣תִּי לָ֔ךְ וְהַמְּעָרָ֥ה אֲשֶׁר־בּ֖וֹ לְךָ֣ נְתַתִּ֑יהָ לְעֵינֵ֧י בְנֵי־עַמִּ֛י נְתַתִּ֥יהָ לָּ֖ךְ קְבֹ֥ר מֵתֶֽךָ׃ (יב) וַיִּשְׁתַּ֙חוּ֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִפְנֵ֖י עַ֥ם הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (יג) וַיְדַבֵּ֨ר אֶל־עֶפְר֜וֹן בְּאָזְנֵ֤י עַם־הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר אַ֛ךְ אִם־אַתָּ֥ה ל֖וּ שְׁמָעֵ֑נִי נָתַ֜תִּי כֶּ֤סֶף הַשָּׂדֶה֙ קַ֣ח מִמֶּ֔נִּי וְאֶקְבְּרָ֥ה אֶת־מֵתִ֖י שָֽׁמָּה׃ (יד) וַיַּ֧עַן עֶפְר֛וֹן אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֥ר לֽוֹ׃ (טו) אֲדֹנִ֣י שְׁמָעֵ֔נִי אֶרֶץ֩ אַרְבַּ֨ע מֵאֹ֧ת שֶֽׁקֶל־כֶּ֛סֶף בֵּינִ֥י וּבֵֽינְךָ֖ מַה־הִ֑וא וְאֶת־מֵתְךָ֖ קְבֹֽר׃ (טז) וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע אַבְרָהָם֮ אֶל־עֶפְרוֹן֒ וַיִּשְׁקֹ֤ל אַבְרָהָם֙ לְעֶפְרֹ֔ן אֶת־הַכֶּ֕סֶף אֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבֶּ֖ר בְּאָזְנֵ֣י בְנֵי־חֵ֑ת אַרְבַּ֤ע מֵאוֹת֙ שֶׁ֣קֶל כֶּ֔סֶף עֹבֵ֖ר לַסֹּחֵֽר׃ (יז) וַיָּ֣קָם ׀ שְׂדֵ֣ה עֶפְר֗וֹן אֲשֶׁר֙ בַּמַּכְפֵּלָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֖ר לִפְנֵ֣י מַמְרֵ֑א הַשָּׂדֶה֙ וְהַמְּעָרָ֣ה אֲשֶׁר־בּ֔וֹ וְכָל־הָעֵץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּשָּׂדֶ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּכָל־גְּבֻל֖וֹ סָבִֽיב׃ (יח) לְאַבְרָהָ֥ם לְמִקְנָ֖ה לְעֵינֵ֣י בְנֵי־חֵ֑ת בְּכֹ֖ל בָּאֵ֥י שַֽׁעַר־עִירֽוֹ׃ (יט) וְאַחֲרֵי־כֵן֩ קָבַ֨ר אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶת־שָׂרָ֣ה אִשְׁתּ֗וֹ אֶל־מְעָרַ֞ת שְׂדֵ֧ה הַמַּכְפֵּלָ֛ה עַל־פְּנֵ֥י מַמְרֵ֖א הִ֣וא חֶבְר֑וֹן בְּאֶ֖רֶץ כְּנָֽעַן׃ (כ) וַיָּ֨קָם הַשָּׂדֶ֜ה וְהַמְּעָרָ֧ה אֲשֶׁר־בּ֛וֹ לְאַבְרָהָ֖ם לַאֲחֻזַּת־קָ֑בֶר מֵאֵ֖ת בְּנֵי־חֵֽת׃ (ס)
(10) Ephron was present among the Hittites; so Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, all who entered the gate of his town, saying, (11) “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field and I give you the cave that is in it; I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.” (12) Then Abraham bowed low before the people of the land, (13) and spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “If only you would hear me out! Let me pay the price of the land; accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” (14) And Ephron replied to Abraham, saying to him, (15) “My lord, do hear me! A piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver—what is that between you and me? Go and bury your dead.” (16) Abraham accepted Ephron’s terms. Abraham paid out to Ephron the money that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites—four hundred shekels of silver at the going merchants’ rate. (17) So Ephron’s land in Machpelah, near Mamre—the field with its cave and all the trees anywhere within the confines of that field—passed (18) to Abraham as his possession, in the presence of the Hittites, of all who entered the gate of his town. (19) And then Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre—now Hebron—in the land of Canaan. (20) Thus the field with its cave passed from the Hittites to Abraham, as a burial site.
(1) Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. (2) And Abraham said to the senior servant of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Put your hand under my thigh (3) and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell, (4) but will go to the land of my birth and get a wife for my son Isaac.” (5) And the servant said to him, “What if the woman does not consent to follow me to this land, shall I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” (6) Abraham answered him, “On no account must you take my son back there! (7) The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from my native land, who promised me on oath, saying, ‘I will assign this land to your offspring’—He will send His angel before you, and you will get a wife for my son from there. (8) And if the woman does not consent to follow you, you shall then be clear of this oath to me; but do not take my son back there.” (9) So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore to him as bidden.