This week’s parasha is Chayei Sarah, “The Life of Sarah,” but it is really about her legacy. The Torah records that Sarah died at the age of 127, described as one hundred and twenty and seven. Our Sages explain this is because she was as beautiful at 100 as she was at 20 and as pure of heart at 20 as she was at 7.
The Torah then tells us of Abraham’s efforts to find a suitable burial place for Sarah, which resulted in his purchase of the Cave of Machpelah, in the modern town of Hebron. There is a large memorial building over the cave which you can still visit today. Cave of Machpelah
Sarah’s life was devoted to her son, Isaac. Abraham hoped to protect Sarah’s precious legacy by finding a suitable wife for their son. Abraham wanted the girl to come from his family far away in Aram Naharaim (the land between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers) rather than their present home of Canaan, because the people of Canaan had many bad practices. Abraham sent the head of his household staff, Eliezer, to find the right girl. Eliezer prayed that God would send a worthy girl who would exhibit her kindness by giving him water and offering to water his camels. God answered his prayer and sent Rebecca, who was a member of Abraham’s family. Rebecca agreed to leave her home and family, travel to Canaan, and marry Isaac.
Abraham married again – some say he remarried Hagar, the mother Ishmael – and had more children. At the age of 175 Abraham died, and Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the Cave of Machpelah.
The parasha records the first Jewish purchase of land in Israel, when Abraham negotiated with Efron the Hittite to buy the Cave of Machpelah and the field around it, and all the trees in the field. In the course of the back and forth discussions, Efron tried to flatter Abraham with a possible gift of the land and cave, calling him a “prince of God”. Abraham disregarded the compliment, knowing that a gift might not be recognized by later generations. He insisted on paying the market price so there would never be any question of ownership. Efron finally named a very expensive price, which Abraham agreed to pay.
In opening the negotiations, Abraham explained “I am a stranger and a resident among you” and asked that the Hittites sell him land for a burial plot. The rabbis have wondered about Abraham’s odd description of his status as both an alien and a resident.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin explains that Abraham’s statement fits well with the place Jews have often occupied in the places we have lived. Israel is the only country in the world where most of the people are Jewish. We Jews outside of Israel live in countries where most of our neighbors are not Jewish. Our religion and many of our customs are very different from those around us. In that way, we are strangers to them. However, we are also residents – or citizens – in the land. We will do our best to be good citizens, to live according to the laws of the land and to respect those whose customs are different from ours.
What an appropriate message for Thanksgiving, the holiday Americans celebrate to give thanks for the peace and freedom we enjoy together with our neighbors of different faiths and cultures.
Shabbat shalom and Happy Thanksgiving,