Reflections – Chayei Sarah
Sometimes I feel that this Parashah is under the auspices of Keren Kayemet LeIsrael (Jewish National Fund). It begins with the story of the first Jew to buy real estate in the Land of Israel – Abraham our Father.
In the city of Hebron, Abraham deals with the death of his wife, his partner in the crazy project of creating a new nation and a new way of understanding the World and its Creator. Sarah our mother has died. Abraham wants to buy some land in order to bury his beloved wife and goes to speak with the local inhabitants, the Hittites. “I am a foreigner living as an alien among you” he says to them, and asks to buy a burial place for Sarah. The Hittites answer with respect and good manners: “You are a prince of God among us, so you can choose the best of our tombs to bury your dead”.
We are witness to a complete ritual of negotiation and haggling. Abraham decides which land he wants and speaks to the owner, who after a lot more good manners announced the price: 400 Shekels of silver (a lot of money…). Abraham pays and secures forever this land, the Cave of Machpela, in the Field of Effron in the city of Hebron.
It is not out of the ordinary, is it? The leader of the Hebrews buys some land to bury his wife. He establishes, in a legitimate way, the legal right of his people to that portion of land. It is in other words a real estate transaction.
Still there is something missing in this whole story. There is no mention of the Divine promise of giving the whole Land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants. Isn’t it, according to Rashi, one of the main objectives of Sefer Bereshit to show the legitimate rights of the People of Israel to this Land? To prove that God gave us the Land as a perpetual gift? And if the Creator gave the Land to Abraham, why does he need to buy it from people? God is on his side!
Aren’t there today people and groups that claim exclusive ownership on the truth? They insist that their monopoly on morality, kindness, ethics and God’s will enables them to speak ill of others, to insult, distort the truth of the other and repress him or her. Left wing people that claim that only they represent the moral and democratic values, right wing people that see others as traitors or in the best case naive. Seculars that see religious people as dark, fanatical and ignorant; religious people seeing seculars as immoral, without any values. In every society the speakers of the “right” belief will declare how perfect, moral and superior their vision is.
If there was ever someone that could have claimed this about his ideas, it was Abraham and, even though he knew that God gave him the whole Land, Abraham treated his pagan neighbors with respect and saw in them a worthy people. He respected their beliefs, customs and property. We claim to be the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, so we would do well to learn from the wisdom of the Midrash in Avot de Rabi Natan that only those that possess three qualities are real students of Abraham – a generous eye, a humble spirit and a modest soul.
Abraham didn’t put in doubt God’s promise; he didn’t forget, nor was he unaware. He knew that nobody has an exclusive ownership of the truth, that other people with good will are also looking for the best truth that they can find. Without denying his own truth, Abraham never forgot the religious humility that reminds us that maybe we are wrong.
A generous eye, humble spirit and modest soul. Who could have said these virtues gave to the People of Abraham the possibility of continuing existing for so many centuries?
Rabbi Mijael Even-David is the new Rabbi of Edgware Masorti Synagogue. He was born and raised in Santiago, Chile and made Aliyah in 2005. He is married to Raya, a native of Jerusalem.