- Written by Daniel Sandground
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This week's sedra begins with the death of Sarah and the consequential efforts of Avraham to purchase a burial place from the conniving Ephron in Hevron. Parashas Chayei Sarah then continues with the account of Avraham sending his servant Eliezar to find a wife for Yitzhak in which we see Rivka successfully pass the requirements of Eliezar's specific criteria in which he looked for signs of kindness from a woman who would draw water for him from the well. Following the introduction of Lavan, we then read about the first meeting of Yitzhak and Rivka with the Torah describing how Yitzhak “brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother” [24:67] and then married her. The concluding perek of this week's sedra is dedicated to the final days of Avraham where we are told that he remarried and bore a further six children. Avraham's death is then described where the Torah informs us that he “died at a good old age, mature, and content” [25:8], with the Parasha then closing with a genealogy of the descendants of Yishmael and his death .
According to Midrashim, Avraham came directly from the test of the Akeidah to bury Sarah, hence why the positioning of this perek follows on straight after the binding of Yitzhak which was given over at the end of last week's sedra. The Targum Yonasan describes how Sarah's death seemed to come as a result of this event as she was told by the Satan that Avraham had actually slaughtered their son, Yitzhak, on the altar. Having been unsuccessful at failing to achieve victory over either Avraham or Yitzhak, the Midrash describes how he tried his luck with Sarah. This news is said to have caused her to cry out in grief and die which explains why her husband and son were not present when she passed away. There are various versions on how the Satan actually achieved this with the Tanchuma even teaching that he appeared in the guise of Yitzhak, saying, “father took me to the mountain to become an offering”, whereby Sarah died from the shock of the almost-accomplished sacrifice. So an important question to ask is why was such a strange tactic necessary for the Satan, (who is known in colloquial terms as 'the Angel of Death'), in order to take Sarah to her death? We learn that both Sarah and Avraham lived their entire lives without a moment spent which was not dedicated to the service of Hashem. They were both therefore always in a position whereby they had this strong connection to G-d in which it would be a very difficult task to detach them from this association. It is in fact brought down in Midrashim that, when the Angel of Death approached Sarah to take her soul, he found her mind dwelling on the Shechinah with such intensity that he was unable to perform his mission. What was therefore necessary to undertake this duty? He needed to distract her from this mindset whereby the intense connection to Hashem would be severed... this was achieved through his plan which he contrived to shock her for just a moment with the story of Yitzhak. With this disconnection, Sarah's soul was finally taken at the age of 127 years. We also see a very similar circumstance taught in gemara Shabbos  to describe how the Angel of Death was able to remove the soul of King David from his body... according to Chazal, King David was constantly immersed in Torah-study which made the Angel of Death equally powerless to remove his soul as the instance above with Sarah. Once again, however, he used trickery to distract King David, this time by shaking the trees in the garden vigorously. King David was alerted by the noise of the trees, directed his mind away from Torah to see what was going on and it was through this that the angel managed to snatch his soul.
With Sarah's passing away, the Torah states that “Avraham came to eulogise Sarah and to bewail her” [23:2]. Having successfully completed his tenth trial of being prepared to offer Yitzhak at the Akeidah, Avraham would have naturally been in high spirits, travelling back to share the news with his beloved Sarah with whom he had transformed the world. To then find out that she had died would have been a huge test in itself with his jubilation very quickly turning to that of mourning. It is taught by the mefarshim that Avraham's reactions to the news of her passing away, at this very sensitive time, could have easily unfolded all the hard work of his previous ten successes in the tribulations he had endured... so how did he react? The first thing to note is the perfect emunah which was shown by Avraham who didn't question Hashem's decision to end Sarah's life at this point. However tragic and mistimed this event might have appeared, Avraham did not bat an eye lid and lose face but instead soldiered on. We must learn from this extreme example of emunah and relate it to our own lives, realising that no matter how bad things might seem at the time, Hashem is always in control and doing what is best for us. In order to describe the grief experienced by Avraham, the Torah uses the word “ולבכתה/and he bewailed her”. This word is written with a small 'כ', which according to most opinions suggests that Avraham, at least in public, kept his grief at a minimum, but why was this so? Surely he was able to show signs of emotion and fully mourn the death of Sarah? In order to answer this question we need to re-visit the context of his mourning... Avraham had just arrived from the Akeidah in Hevron and had discovered that due to this event his beloved wife had passed away. A very natural human reaction to this would be that of self blame, Sarah did afterall die of shock due to the hearing of the events. There is a halacha which states that if you regret a mitzvah then it as if you did not do it in the first place... so now we begin to see elements of clarity on why Avraham culled his bewailing. If Avraham was to fully express the pain and upset which he was feeling then this could have led to self blame and regret of his actions. To avoid such a spiritual danger, Avraham was able to incredibly cut-short his mourning and prevent the inevitable outcome which mulling on the grief for too long would have resulted in.
Just to finish off with a few words on one of the most entertaining Torah characters, and all for the wrong reasons, Ephron. Perhaps the most conniving and corrupt person we encounter in our journey through the Torah, Ephron represents the polar opposite of the holy Avraham who approached him in order to buy a burial plot for Sarah. In fact if we analyse just the name “עפרון/Ephron” then we see that it is a derivative of the word “עפר/Ephar” which quite literally means 'dirt'. If we take the gematria of his name, which is 400, we also see that straight away this person is associated with a number which always represents something negative in the Torah... for example the 400 men which accompanied Esav to pursue Yaakov, the 400 years of exile and the kabbalistic teaching that there are 400 forces used by the Satan... to name but a few. The Baal HaTurim also points out that this name has the same gematria as the words “רע עין/ra ayin” which literally translates as 'evil of eye' but used in this context implies stinginess. Ephron also eventually took 400 shekalim for the cave which he sold to Avraham which the mefarshim comment represents what he is... as the famous expression goes... 'all about the money'. In last week's sedra we saw how Avraham invited the angels into his tent with the request that he “fetch a morsel of bread” [18:5] for them... and what does he actually feed them? A banquet of fine cakes with the finest cut of meat and calf's milk. This is the way of the Tzaddik, he speaks little but does a lot. This week the Torah gives us the other side of the coin with the rasha that is Ephron, who speaks a lot and does little. Originally we see Ephron offer the Cave of the Machpelah for free, stating that “I have given you the field, and as for the cave that is in it, I have given it to you... bury your dead” [23:11]... but what actually happens? We see that although Ephron started out by making grandiose offers of a gift, he eventually revealed himself as a greedy man who ended up extorting Avraham for far more than the property was worth, demanding 400 shekels which Rashi tells us were worth 2500 ordinary shekels due to them being negotiable currency known as 'centenaria'. We therefore see that Avraham eventually ends up paying a total of one million ordinary shekels for the cave. Ephron was therefore quite the rip-off merchant!
May we all do more than we say and of course, have a fantastic Shabbat!
Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)