THE LIFE OF SARAH
The parsha opens with LIFE -- the LIFE of Sarah -- even though it goes on to speak of her death, and later that of Avraham (Abraham) (Bereishit 25:8). This is because it is the very limit that death puts upon life that makes every year of life and every day so precious. "Teach us to count our days" (Tehillim 90:12). What gives true value to each day is not the material pleasures enjoyed or the wealth amassed but the eternal goodness attained through the mitzvot one accomplishes each day, each minute.
In the words of Reb Nosson
of Breslov in his Introduction to Chayey Moharan, the Life of Rebbe Nachman
: "There are countless gradations in the life and vitality found in the world. Real life is the life of true wisdom, as it is written: 'Wisdom gives life to those who possess it' (Kohelet 712
). And the essence of wisdom is to labor and endeavor to know and acknowledge God, who is the Life of life. The closer one comes to God, the more his life is genuine life."
"And the years of the life of Sarah" (Bereishit 23:1).
"And these are the days of the years of the life of Avraham that he lived" (ibid. 25:87).
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"And the sons of Chet answered Avraham saying to him. No man among us would withhold his grave from you" (Bereishit 23:5-6).
No one in the world is exempt from death. All Adam's children must pay the price of his sin by tasting death. Thus even the Canaanite children of Chet (who were later to prove bitter enemies of Avraham's descendants) were forced to take a share in the mourning for Sarah. ISH MIMENU -- "No man among us." The words imply an awareness that all mankind lives under the shadow of death (ARI).
Burial is one of several possible ways of removing the bodies of our dead from within our midst. Removal of the dead from the midst of the living serves the living, to whom the presence of a decomposing corpse is too offensive and humiliating, a reminder of their own mortality. But dead bodies could be burned or disposed of otherwise: Why bury them?
The answer is that burial benefits the dead as well. "For you are dust and to the dust you will return" (Bereishit 3:19). Burial brings kapara, atonement, to the dead person for the sins committed in this world through the body. Being lowered into the earth after a lifetime of proud living above it is the deepest humiliation. The concealment of the person's physical remains beneath the earth, where they decompose and are reabsorbed into the elements, signifies the concealment and atonement of his sins. Eventually everything is merged back into unity and even the sins are turned into merits.
An integral aspect of the honor accorded to the dead through burial is that the atonement is accomplished in a concealed manner, thereby covering and hiding the shame of the dead. "And he shall cover it in the earth" (Vayikra 17:13).
Adam himself was buried in the earth: according to tradition, Adam and Chava (Eve) were buried in the very Cave of Machpelah in which Avraham buried Sarah (Zohar VAYERA on the verse "And Avraham ran to the bull" Bereishit 18:7). Burial of the dead is an integral part of the heritage of the children of Shem and Yafet (Japheth) -- their reward for the modesty they showed when they concealed their father Noah's nakedness after he became drunk (Bereishit 9:21). Rashi comments (ad loc.) that in the merit of this act, Shem earned for his children the modest body covering of the Tallit with its Tzitzit (fringes, Bamidbar 15:38), while Yafet earned burial for his descendants, the armies of Gog who are to be buried after falling in the war of Gog and Magog (Yechezkel 39:11). [Significantly, it is customary to bury Jewish men in their Tallit.]
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ACQUISITION & OWNERSHIP
Avraham found it sufficient to live in tents for his whole life -- he was fully aware that he was but a "visitor and a resident" (Bereishit 23:4) on this earth. Only when Sarah died did Avraham find it necessary to acquire a permanent accommodation -- a final resting place for the body while the soul continued to eternal life. Thus Avraham teaches us that our most important acquisitions in this world are not the material houses on which most people lavish so much money and effort for their temporary stay here. Rather, our truest acquisitions are those that will truly serve us in the eternal life. Buying a burial plot is a segulah for long life!
Avraham's acquisition of the Field and the cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite is the first case of the acquisition of land in the Torah. [Chava "acquired" a child, Cain, naming him after the acquisition: "I have acquired (Kaniti) a man with God", Bereishit 4:1]. Fundamental lessons about kinyan, acquisition or ownership, are derived from the account in our parsha of Avraham's purchase of land from Ephron, the classic example of how business dealings between the Children of Noah are to be characterized by the rule of law and integrity in accordance with the Seventh Universal Law. The negotiations and the transaction were carried out with perfect "transparency". The ears of the Children of Chet heard everything and their eyes saw it all (Bereishit 23: 10, 13; 18 etc.) Avraham did not ask for any bargains and he did not receive any. He paid the full price with silver. [Money is soul: people put their very soul into the acquisition of the liquid asset known as kesef. Kesef is soul, for soul is desire: kisufin.]
Earlier in the story of Avraham, when Malki-tzedek (= Shem) king of Shalem (=Jerusalem) had come out to greet him after he rescued Lot from the Four Kings [Parshat Lech Lecha], Malki-tzedek blessed Avraham in the name of " the Supreme God, owner of Heaven and Earth" (Bereishit 14:19). Avraham swore by the same God -- "owner of Heaven and Earth (ibid. 22).
Only when man acknowledges that God owns everything can man be said to own anything -- "for if you lack da'at (knowledge), what have you acquired?" [Kinyan requires da'at]. Everything belongs to God: "The earth is the Lord's and all its fullness" (Tehillim 24:1). When man understands this and blesses God before he takes anything from this world, then God brings man to his true glory. God gives the world to man and allows him to own it: "And He has given the earth to the children of Adam" (ibid. 115:16).
Although Ephron had been the titular owner of the land, it had meant nothing to him -- it was dark and concealed -- because he did not possess this knowledge. Since Avraham had the knowledge, when he purchased the land it became truly his and associated with his name for ever: "And the field of Ephron stood." -- ("It had tekuma, an upstanding" -- Rashi) -- "to Avraham as an acquisition" (Bereishit 23:17-18).
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Everyone knows that God rules over the heavens -- even the nearest star is way beyond man's reach. What is concealed from many people is that God rules over the earth and over every detail of what happens here. This was what Avraham came into the world to teach.
Rashi tells us (commenting on why Avraham, speaking to Eliezer, invoked "Hashem, the God of the heavens" but did not mention "and of earth" -- Bereishit 24:7): "Avraham told Eliezer that now He is God 'of the heavens AND the earth' because I have made this phrase habitual on people's lips. But when He took me from the house of my father, He was 'God of the heavens' but not 'God of the earth' because people in the world did not recognize Him and His name was not familiar on the earth".
Avraham's could not allow his work to end with him. It was an integral part of his mission to have a worthy successor who would in turn have a worthy successor to ensure that the knowledge of God would never again be hidden from the world.
As a "Prince of God" (Bereishit 23:6) and of the progeny of Shem, Avraham was discriminating about the family that would provide the appropriate wife for his son and successor. Contrary to the widely held fallacy that people of any and every family and national backgrounds are all "equal", Avraham was unwilling to make a family alliance with any other than his own family back in Padan Aram. This was where they had stayed when Avraham went on his journey of destiny to the Land of Canaan.
Avraham was unwilling to make a family alliance with the Canaanites, for Canaan, grandson of Ham, was under the curse of Noah. On the other hand, Avraham could not allow his son Yitzchak (Isaac) to return to Padan Aram even for the sake of being married. This would have undermined the whole purpose of Avraham's departure from that "Old World". Padan Aram (with it's high priest, Levon = Bilaam, brain of all the forces of evil, the klipot) was the old World of Devastation (olam hatohu, Breaking of the Vessels), whereas Avraham had gone to turn the Land of Canaan in to the Land of Israel (Yeshurun, Yosher) to create Olam Hatikun, the world of repair and healing.
Accordingly Avraham sent his servant Eliezer to Padan Aram to redeem the spark of Tikkun – Rivka (Rebecca) -- from the World of Devastation, Padan Aram, a place characterized by deception.
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It is significant that Eliezer is the one sent on this mission. Eliezer, son of Nimrod, son of Kush, eldest son of the accursed Ham) was himself an example of a rescued spark. By attaching himself to Avraham, Eliezer himself became "blessed" -- Levon greets him as "Blessed of Hashem" (Bereishit 24"31). [Just how blessed this attachment proved to Eliezer's soul is seen in the fact that he was later incarnated as Kalev son of Yephuneh -- who had a particular attachment to Chevron and the patriarchs -- see Rashi on Bamidbar 13:22, as Benayah ben Yehoyada in the time of King Solomon and as Shemayah and Avtaliyon, leaders in the early rabbinic period and both converts. (ARI).]
The Torah gives much space to the account of Eliezer's journey to Padan Aram because witnessing closely Avraham's devoted servant in action, we learn deep lessons about Avraham and his mission in the world.
Eliezer goes first to the well, because, as "that Damascan" (Bereishit 15:2) -- DAMASEK -- Eliezer's task was to be "Doleh u-MaSHKeh miToras Rabo", drawing and giving out to drink from the waters of the Torah of his master: "Ho, everyone that is thirsty, come for water!" (Yeshayahu 55:1). Deeply embedded in the account of Eliezer's mission is the concept of the dli ("the bucket = Aquarius) and the drawing of the waters of spirituality into the world for all to drink [Bney Issaschar, Shevat].
The first thing Eliezer did at the well was to pray to God for help. He asked God to make events happen in a way that will enable the kindness of Avraham to be handed down to future generations. Eliezer's request to God is founded upon the belief -- received from Avraham -- that He is "God of earth" and not only "God in heaven." God is in complete control of everything that "happens" on earth, down to the last detail. It is no "coincidence" that Rivka stepped out to "draw water from the well" just as Eliezer completed his prayer.
The test Eliezer devised for the candidate suited to marry Yitzchak and bring Avraham's kindness to the world was a test of character. What counts is not what people say (like Ephron, who said a lot but did hardly anything). What counts is what they actually DO.
Rivka did MORE than Eliezer asked her. Not only did she want to give him to drink; she wanted to perform kindness, GOMEL Chessed, to the very camels, GAMALIM. She has the expansive quality of CHESSED characteristic of the true family of Avraham: she was fitted for the role of consort to the new Prince of God.
The loss of one member of the family, Sarah, who went into the grave, HaKeVeR, opens the way for the entry of a new member to build the family: RiVKaH. The death of the old generation and their descent into HaKeVeR turns out to be HaBoKeR, a new morning, a new day!
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THE FIELD BLESSED BY GOD
Rivka's first sight of Yitzchak was when "Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field towards the evening" (Bereishit 24:43). This was the field of submission, the site where Yitzchak had been bound on Mount Moriah. Yitzchak turned his submission into a daily devotion: the devotion of set prayer and meditation.
Prayer is where we make Him "God of the earth", involving Him in all our daily affairs and activities and shining His light into the innermost depths of our hearts.
The Talmud tells us that the three founding fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov (Jacob), were all engaged in laying the foundations for the Temple on this site. Each made his own unique contribution -- and conceived it in a different way: Avraham as a "Mountain"; Yitzchak as a "Field" and Yaakov as a "House". And it is as a "House" that it is destined to be built in Jerusalem in the near future (Pesachim 88a)
At first, attachment to God is like a high mountain. To scale the mountain, we must discipline ourselves like oxen to plough daily and turn the mountain into a cultivated field. Finally we come to the stage where spirituality is part of our lives and comes into our very homes, houses, domestic and family affairs (see Likutey Moharan I:10). This is the work of Yaakov, to whom we will be introduced in next week's parsha, and whose garments had the fragrance of the "field that God has blessed" (parshat Toldot, Bereishit 27:28).