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Rabbi Jon’s Reflection on This Week’s Torah Portion

11.10.2023

Chayei Sarah 2023: The First Land Purchase

A short reflection on Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 - 25:18)  

Visiting Israel is like going home.  We all feel an indescribable bond as we take our first steps off our flight and push our way through passport control and customs. This feeling of belonging has been embedded in the bloodstream of every Jew starting with the moment Abraham and Sarah entered the land of Canaan. This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, asks and answers a key question, “when did our connection to this land move beyond the emotional and become official?” It is a key question in today’s highly charged political environment and our Torah has much light to shed on this topic.  

At the start of this portion, Sarah, the wife of Abraham, dies.  The Torah teaches us that “the span of Sarah’s life came to 127 years” and that she died in “Kiriath Arba, now Hebron, in the land of Canaan.” Abraham was distraught when Sarah passed, and so he mourned her passing with full heart. During his mourning, he had to take time to negotiate for a piece of land, a burial plot.  Even when our hearts are broken there is a process for saying goodbye and part of that process is the business side of burial.

Now, the local Hittites offered Abraham the right to bury Sarah anywhere he pleased for free.  It was a generous offer at the right price but Abraham did not accept it. He didn’t want his wife to be buried on land which he did not legally control. Instead of taking them up on their offer, he asked them to speak to Ephron son of Zohar on his behalf about selling to him the cave of Machpelah at full price.  He didn’t want a deal.  He didn’t want to owe anyone any favors.  He wanted to show respect to his wife by placing her in a burial spot which he alone controlled. Now Ephron wasn’t known for his generosity.  He overstated the value of the land expecting Abraham to negotiate.  Instead, Abraham overpaid for the land by giving him 400 shekels of silver.  The Torah clearly describes the land purchased by Abraham.  “Ephron’s land in Machpelah, near Mamre – the field with its cave and all the trees anywhere within the confines of that field passed to Abraham as his possession, in the presence of the Hittites….”   This is the first piece of land that our ancestors bought in the land of Canaan. This land was purchased some 3700 years ago.  It was purchased AFTER God had told Abraham and Sarah to go to a land that God would show them, a land that was to become the property of future generations. 

The right of the Jewish people to live in the Land of Israel did not start in 1948 with the Israeli declaration of Independence.  It did not start in 1917 with the Balfour Declaration.  It did not start in 167 BCE when the Maccabees conquered the Romans.  It did not start when Joshua led the people back into the land of Israel after 430 years of slavery.  It started when Abraham bought a piece of land to show respect for his deceased wife. Since the return of the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership in 1200 BCE, Jews have always lived in the land of Israel though they have not always been in control.  Our connection to Israel spans thousands of years, though many would argue just the opposite.  

Israel has given a Jewish voice in the international political arena.  Israel has provided a  secure haven for Jews who are forced to leave their native lands due to anti-Semitism.  Israel has provided a link to our history.  And, Israel has provided so much for Jews living in the diaspora. It is key to our safety, our identity,  and our existence.

Each of us must think about our personal connection to the land of Israel and reflect upon how it is ingrained in our very being.  It is a 3700 year connection and it is a connection that began when Abraham bought a burial plot for his beloved Sarah.   

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CHAYEI SARAH SUMMARY FROM THE URJ

  • Abraham purchases the cave of Machpelah in order to bury his wife Sarah. (23:1-20)

  • Abraham sends his servant to find a bride for Isaac. (24:1-9)

  • Rebekah shows her kindness by offering to draw water for the servant's camels at the well. (24:15-20)

  • The servant meets Rebekah's family and then takes Rebekah to Isaac, who marries her. (24:23-67)

  • Abraham takes another wife, named Keturah. At the age of one hundred and seventy-five years, Abraham dies, and Isaac and Ishmael bury him in the cave of Machpelah. (25:1-11)

For more on this Torah portion from the URJ go to: https://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/chayei-sarah

Sat, March 2 2024 22 Adar I 5784