By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Parshat Chayei Sara
November 21, 2003
The Torah pays tribute to our matriarch Sarah at the end of
And the years of the life of Sarah were one hundred years and twenty years and
seven years; the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba,
which is Chevron, in the land of Canaan. And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah
and to cry for her (Bereishit 23:1-2).
Here, Sarah’s name is mentioned specifically four times.
However, as soon as Avraham completes this stage of his mourning, and begins
negotiations with the Hittite “local council” to purchase the cave of
Machpelah from Efron, Sarah’s name ceases to be mentioned. Instead, every
reference to her uses the impersonal noun MEIT, “dead”:
And Avraham arose from before his dead and he spoke to the children of Cheit,
saying “. . . and let me bury my dead from before me.”
And the children of Cheit answered Avraham “. . . In the choicest of our
graves bury your dead; not one of us would withhold his grave from you to bury
your dead. . . .”
And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your desire to bury my dead from
before me . . .”
And Efron the Hittite answered Avraham “ . . . bury your dead.” ...
And he spoke to Efron, “ . . . and I will bury my dead there.” . . .
And Efron answered Avraham, saying to him, “. . . and your dead, bury” (vs.
In every statement throughout the parley, reference is made to Avraham’s wife.
Yet, eight times, Sarah is not referred to as “Sarah,” nor even “wife,” but
Of course, this highlights the fact that only the body dies. The soul, Sarah’s
true essence, is eternal. This is implied in Ibn Ezra’s comment on verse 3:
before his dead: A reference to the body.
However, the closing section of this passage — after Avraham weighs out the
four hundred shekels of silver in the presence of all the inhabitants of the
city to purchase the cave and the surrounding field — poses a problem:
And afterwards Avraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of
Machpelah before Mamre, which is Chevron, in the land of Canaan. And the
field, as well as the cave in it, became established for Avraham as a burial
plot, from the children of Cheit (vs.19-20).
If it is only the body that is buried, why is Sarah mentioned
once again by name, including the rather tender appellation “his wife,” at the
time of her burial?
A number of commentaries take note of the fact that verses 19-20 say the cave
and field of Machpelah “became established for Avraham as a burial plot” after
having said the same idea in verses 17-18. Ramban says the Torah wishes to
emphasize that this became a legitimate and universally recognized (from the
children of Cheit) possession of Avraham and his family. Moreover, it is,
without question, “in the land of Canaan,” and not in the land of the
Pelishtim, where Avraham lived heretofore (see Bereishit 21:34). Malbim adds
that at first Machpelah became known as the family’s burial place, and then
“the field” was designated as burial grounds, not to be used for planting.
As a result of this purchase, Avraham had an uncontested holding in the land
of Israel, fulfilling Hashem’s many promises to give him the land.
And yet, Avraham realized that Hashem’s promise did not come easily. Our Sages
(Sanhedrin 111a; Bava Batra 16a) explain that this episode is considered one
of Avraham’s trials, demonstrating his outstanding steadfastness. Says Hashem:
I said to Avraham, “Arise, walk about in the land, along its length and
breadth, for to you will I give it” (Bereishit 13:17). Nevertheless, when
Avraham sought a place to bury Sarah he did not find one until he paid four
hundred shekels of silver, yet he did not suspect My integrity.
Maharsha explains (on Bava Batra 100a) furthermore, that based on this same
verse, when Avraham traverses the land he is laying claim to it, thus making
it easier for his descendants to possess it. They will be inheritors of
Avraham, not conquerors.
Out of all Hashem’s promises to Avraham, “Arise, walk about in the land” posed
the greatest challenge: While others might refer to Avraham’s descendants,
this verse enables Avraham himself to lay claim to the land by walking through
it. The challenge to Avraham’s loyalty, therefore, is that he must pay so
dearly for land that is already his! Or, rather, it should have been his.
However, when he pays the price of the cave and field of Machpelah in the
presence of the Hittites, the potential of “Arise, walk about in the land” is
Sarah has been Avraham’s lifelong partner in teaching the world about Hashem:
“Avraham would convert the men and Sarah would convert the women” (Bereishit
As the mother of Yitzchak, she is Avraham’s partner in beginning the creation
of the nation of Israel, thus fulfilling Hashem’s promise
And I will make you into a great nation (Bereishit 12:2).
Now, at the time of the acquisition of the cave of Machpelah, Sarah is again
Avraham’s partner in realizing another of Hashem’s promises:
Arise, walk about in the land, along its length and breadth, for to you will I
This is the meaning of the Midrash (Tanchuma Chayei Sarah 4)
that sees in Eshet Chayil (Mishlei 31:10-31) a précis of Sarah’s life. On the
She plans a field and acquires it the Midrash says:
She planned and acquired the field of Machpelah and she was buried there, as
it says, “And afterwards Avraham buried Sarah.”
In fulfilling Hashem’s promise, Sarah can be called — even after death — by
name, as well as Avraham’s wife. Her soul, her values, live on. It is through
the union of Avraham and Sarah that the land of Israel becomes the rightful
possession of the people of Israel.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Avraham commissions his trusted servant Eliezer to seek a fitting wife for
his son Yitzchak. After hearing all the instructions, Eliezer turns to his
master with the quintessential question: “What if I find the ideal bride,
a kallah with alle malles, but her single request is that she and her
husband set up their new home close to her family?” Not once but twice,
Avraham emphasizes: “On no account shall you take my son back there
(24:5-8)!” Yitzchak must remain in the land of Israel.
Why was Avraham so adamant? Surely a committed Jew like Yitzchak would be
able to set up a community with all the necessary institutions and live a
full Jewish life in Mesopotamia!
We are told that when Ya’akov descended to Egypt, he sent his son Yehudah
ahead “lehorot lefanav Goshnah - to show the way before him to Goshen (Bereishit
46:28).” The Midrash, as quoted by Rashi, comments on these words: “To set
up a house of study from which instruction would issue forth.”
The Jewish people in all their wanderings demonstrated their unique
ability to establish communal institutions within a short time. Look at
the American Jewish community with its magnificent yeshivot, day schools,
synagogues, and mikva’ot - thriving Orthodox communities rarely seen in
Yet even today, Avraham would not be swayed. His words would again ring
forth, “On no account shall you take my son back there!” Generations
later, the Rabbis of the Mishnah imposed the status of ritual impurity on
all lands outside Israel. Their reasoning was simple. In the Golah, Torah
study may be profound, prayer may be intense, charitable behavior may be
significant. Over all these wonderful elements, however, there hovers an
oppressive cloud of foreign values and influence that spreads its
insidious poison into our spiritual lives and those of our children.
Only in Israel does the possibility exist, difficult as it may be, to
create an all-encompassing world of Torah for ourselves, our children and
Rabbi Sender Shizgal
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320