Parshas Chayei Sarah
Caving In to Truth
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
The life of Sarah was 127 years-[thus were] the years of Sarah's life.
Sarah died in Kiryat Arbah, which is Chevron, in the land of Canaan.
Though the Torah doesn't mention it, we know from the Midrash that it was
the Akeidah that caused Sarah to die:
"Avraham came ..." From where did he come? From Be'er Sheva. If you will
ask, who brought Sarah to Chevron, I heard that the Satan came and said to
"Where is Yitzchak?"
She answered him, "To learn about offering sacrifices."
He told her, "He is the sacrifice!"
She didn't believe him, so she went to Achiman, Shaishi, and Talmi, and
said, "You are tall and can see from a distance. See if there is an older
man and two youths."
They told her, "We see an old man and he is binding one young man, and
there is a knife in his hand!"
Immediately she died. (Yalkut Reuvani in the name of the Zohar)
Perhaps this is alluded to in the first word of the parshah, vayeheyu,
which adds up to thirty-seven (vav, yud, heh, yud, vav: 6+10+5+10+6), the
age at which Yitzchak underwent the Akeidah.
The truth is, Sarah wasn't the only one to die that day because of the
Akeidah--Yitzchak also died. According to the Midrash (Midrash HaGadol
22:12), the moment Avraham put the knife to Yitzchak's neck, his soul left
him; it only returned to him after G-d told Avraham not to lay his hands on
However, as the Ohr HaChaim points out in last week's parshah (22:20),
Yitzchak did not get back the same soul he lost, for, before the Akeidah,
his soul had been feminine (coming from Chava; Chidah, Seder HaDoros),
whereas after the Akeidah, his soul was masculine, which is what made it
possible for him to later father children. That is why the parshah ends
with the account of Rivkah's birth, as if to say, now, after the Akeidah,
Yitzchak can marry and have progeny.
What makes this interesting is that the source of Sarah's soul had also
been Chava (Chidah, Seder HaDoros). It is as if Chava's soul was somehow
rectified and returned to its source because of the Akeidah, as if the
Akeidah was a rite of passage for the soul. However, the very fact that
Rivkah was born at this precise time (Seder Olam 1), and that she continued
on the blessings that were the hallmark of Sarah's life (which represented
rectification for Chava's sin; see Perceptions, Chaye Sarah, 5758, Shabbos
Day), indicates that the loss of Yitzchak's portion of Chava's soul, and
the loss of Sarah's portion, made possible the birth of Rivkah and the
unification of the soul within one person.
So, though on the surface Sarah's death may seem disturbing, below the
surface, her death represented an important turning point in history. It is
another proof of the mysterious hand of G-d orchestrating to precision the
fulfillment of His master plan--the Truth behind the
Avraham got up and bowed down to the people of the land, to the sons of
Ches. He told them, "If you wish to bury my dead, appeal on my behalf to
Ephron son of Tzohar, so that he will let me have the cave of Machpelah at
the edge of his field. Let him give it to me for the full price as a burial
property among you." (Bereishis 23:7-9)
... Why is it called "Machpelah"? Kafula b'zugos--Because it has many
couples (i.e., "kafula" is the root of the word "machpelah"). To Mamre, the
city of Arbah (four) ... (Bereishis 25:29); Rebi Yitzchak: The city of four
couples (i.e., Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, and
Ya'akov and Leah). (Eiruvin 53a)
That the Forefathers and the Foremothers are buried in Ma'aras HaMachpelah
makes the place extremely holy and important to the Jewish people. However,
the fact that Adam and Chava are buried there too makes the place extremely
mystical as well:
"The mystery of Ma'aras HaMachpelah is that Adam and Chava are buried
there, and even though this is not made known in the Torah, it is a true
tradition that has gone from mouth-to-ear; it is in the Zohar: Rebi Kisma
said: Ma'aras HaMachpelah is near the opening of Gan Aiden, for there is no
doubt that Gan Aiden is in Eretz [Yisroel]. When Chava died, Adam buried
her there, and the smell was that of Gan Aiden. For this reason, Adam
wanted to dig further, but a Heavenly Voice came out and said, 'It is
enough for you! Stand there, and do not dig further.' He was also buried
there by his son Shais, who was in his likeness. Rebi Rechumai said, 'The
Holy One, Blessed is He, was involved in his [Adam's] creation and his
death, and no one knew [about the place] until Avraham came along and
purchased it for a lot of money; the smell is that of Gan Aiden, and he
heard the voices of the Ministering Angels says, "Adam is buried there." '
" (Yalkut Reuvaini, Tziyoni, Chaye Sarah)
Wait. There's more:
"Ma'aras Machpelah, which is in Chevron, is the place where the Forefathers
are buried, and it is known that it is the passageway to the lower Gan
Aiden; hence, the words "over la-socher" (Bereishis 23:17; "current money
to the merchant") equal in gematria "orach l'Gan," the "path to the
Garden." As well, the word "la-socher" is missing the letter "vav," giving
it a gematria equal to the word "chatzer" (courtyard), because Ma'aras
Machpelah is the courtyard to Gan Aiden ... Furthermore, anyone who dies
and is buried there merits to ascend to the lower Gan Aiden without
obstruction ..." (Yalkut Reuvaini, Tov Ha'Aretz, Chaye Sarah)
In fact, according to the Tov Ha'Aretz, one of the main reasons why the
Angel tried to damage Ya'akov's leg when they fought together was to create
a spiritual blemish in Ya'akov that would deny him the right to be buried
there with his wives! It's as if Ma'aras Machpelah is some kind of
spiritual "litmus test" for the Jewish people--if a person was worthy, the
cave accepted him for burial; if not, the cave rejected him. If so, we can
understand why Avraham was prepared to go to great lengths to buy the cave
from Ephron. And if so, we can have a better appreciation why the cave and
Chevron are playing such a major role in current politics as history begins
to wind down.
This may be hard for a non-believing Jew to grapple with, for whom Ma'aras
HaMachpelah may be just another tourist attraction. But for the
Torah-observant Jew, Ma'aras HaMachpelah represents far more than just
another stop along the tour, and if it was so important to Avraham, then it
ought to be important to us as well. After all, Ma'aseh Avos siman
l'banim--the actions of the father are lessons for the sons.
Rivkah had a brother named Lavan who ran to the man by the well. When he
had seen the ring, and the bracelets on the hands of his sister, and heard
the words of Rivkah about what the man had told her, he came to the man
standing with the camels by the well. He told him, "Come in, blessed one of
G-d; why stand outside? I have cleared the house, and a place for the
camels." (Bereishis 24:29:31)
From this episode, Lavan sounds like a fine specimen of a human being. In
fact, from the following, he even seems like he has fear of G-d:
Lavan and Besuel answered, "This has come from G-d. We cannot say anything
to you, bad or good. Take Rivkah and go, so that she may be the wife of the
son of your master, as G-d has said." (Bereishis 24:50-51)
Interestingly enough, these are similar words to the following:
Lavan said to Ya'akov, "What have you done? You have stolen my heart and
led my daughters away like captives taken by the sword! Why did you flee
secretly and leave without telling me? I would have gladly sent you away,
with songs and drums and lyre. You didn't even give me a chance to kiss my
sons and daughters. This time you have acted foolishly. I have the power to
harm you. However, the G-d of your father spoke to me last night and told
me, 'Make sure not to speak to Jacob either good or evil.' " (Bereishis
In fact, it had been Lavan's intention to murder Ya'akov, his nephew, and
take his entire family back with him to Padan Aram. When we talk about the
"Arami" in the Haggadah shel Pesach who wanted to "kill our father," we are
referring to Lavan. In fact, it was Lavan who later reincarnated into
Bilaam, the evil sorcerer who first advised Paroah to enslave and torture
the Jewish people, and then later, tried to curse the Jewish nation at
And to think that he was called "Lavan"--which means white! Is this another
example of the Torah's wry sense of humor?
Perhaps. But it actually alludes to a far deeper idea. In fact, there are
things in life that in certain conditions can be positive, while in other
conditions can be very negative. Even positive character traits when used
at the wrong time can have evil results. For example, it was Shaul
HaMelech's misplaced mercy for King Agag of Amalek that resulted in Haman
and, perhaps, down the road, Hitler. It was his misplaced sense of judgment
that caused him to have Nov, the city of kohanim wiped away for helping the
So too was it this way with Lavan. At his spiritual root, Lavan was "pure"
and "white." However, as his soul traveled down into the physical world to
his body, it became affected by the physical world, and its potential for
good became stifled while its potential for evil increased. It is not
unlike what happens to a well-behaved child who falls in with wrong
company, and eventually forsakes his well-groomed ways for the delinquent
behavior of his friends.
The reason why this idea is so important because it acts as a warning to
the Jewish people, whom, according to the Nefesh HaChaim, control the
spiritual quality of the world. If we fulfill our mandate to be a "light
unto the nations," then the world exists on a higher spiritual plain.
However, if we choose to ignore our raison d'Ítre, then the world sinks to
profoundly spiritually low levels, and the Lavans of history end being the
"shachors" (black) of history, making the world a dangerous place for
everyone, especially the Jews. This does not mean that every evil person in
history has a pure soul at its root. However, there are many that do,
especially among the Jewish people, whose attitude towards us may very much
depend upon the spiritual climate of the day.
Avraham lived 175 years, and died at a good old age, an old, fulfilled man.
He was gathered to his people. His sons Yitzchak and Yishmael buried him in
the cave of Machpelah in the field of Ephron. (Bereishis 25:7)
Rebi Yitzchak said: At the time of the destruction of the Temple, The Holy
One, Blessed is He, found Avraham standing in the Temple. He said to
Avraham, "What is My beloved doing in My house ..." (Yirmiyahu 11:15)?
Avraham answered, "I came to inquire about my children."
"Your children have sinned and were therefore exiled," explained G-d.
Avraham pleaded before G-d, "Maybe they sinned accidentally?"
Whereupon G-d replied, "Seeing she has acted lewdly ... (ibid.)"
"But perhaps only a minority sinned," Avraham argued.
"With many ... (ibid.)" G-d responded.
"Still, you should have remembered Bris Milah!" Avraham pleaded.
G-d responded, "The holy flesh has passed from you ... (ibid.)"
"Perhaps if You had waited they would have done teshuvah ..." Avraham told
G-d, to which G-d said,
"When you do evil, then you rejoice. (ibid.)"
Immediately Avraham raised his hand over his head and began to weep, and
lamented, "G-d forbid they will never be forgiven!"
Whereupon a Heavenly Voice said, "A leafy olive tree, fair with good fruit,
the L-rd called your name. (ibid.)"
In other words, just as the olive gives the best of its fruit at its oldest
age, so also will Israel flourish at its oldest age. (Menachos 53b)
In this week's parshah, Avraham Avinu dies. The Torah does not actually
eulogize Avraham, as it does Moshe Rabbeinu at the end of Sefer Devarim,
and as Avraham was reported to have done for his wife Sarah, at the
beginning of this parshah. However, the above Talmudic quote, which reveals
how deeply he loved all of his descendants, serves as the basis for such a
eulogy, summing up why Avraham was called the "Father of the Jewish
On the other hand, the Talmud elsewhere provides a radically different
account that begs explanation:
In the Time-to-Come, The Holy One Blessed is He, will say to Avraham, "Your
children have sinned before Me!" Avraham will answer, "Master of the
Universe! Let them be wiped away for the sake of Your Holy Name!" (Shabbos
From the former quote, it sounds as if G-d was looking to punish the Jewish
people, and as if Avraham was trying desperately to save them from Divine
wrath. However, in the latter quote, it sounds as if G-d was looking to
forgive the Jewish people, but as if Avraham himself was condemning them.
Does that sound like the father of the Jewish people?
Yes, because the greatest asset of a good parent is his profound love for
his child, and, the greatest detriment to being a good parent is one's
profound love for a child. It is this love that unifies the life of the
child with the life of the parent to such an extent that the parent is
willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the welfare of his or her
However, there is a limit to such sacrifice, the passing of which not only
does not benefit the child, but can actually damage the child. Sometimes
the parent, for the sake of the child and a higher purpose, in spite of the
love and because of the love, must let the child wallow in its own woes. It
takes a great parent filled with love of his or her child to act this way,
and a pretty astute one to know which of the two paths to walk at any given
moment. Avraham was such a parent to his children, and all those children
that followed as well.
"Harsh behavior is one thing," you may be saying, "but wipe them away?"
What good is a father if no children remain? The answer to this question
lies in the Akeidah. Avraham was a man of truth, of G-d's truth, which
meant doing whatever G-d said and trusting that His promises will become
fulfilled, one way or another. Slaughtering Yitzchak at the Akeidah meant
Avraham believed that G-d can fulfill the promise of a son and
descendants--even if that son were to die. Just how that would happen was a
mystery--but happen it would.
This is part of Avraham's proclamation here as well. It is as if to say,
"If justice requires that you wipe the sinners away, so be it. I trust You
have alternative ways to bring those souls to Gan Aiden, one way or
another. Those details I leave to you."
Have a great Shabbos,
ACHAREI MOS AND KEDOSHIM:
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky - 5762
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5766
In Hillel's Footsteps
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5760
Life After Death
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5760
Holy Pursuits - Mundane Paths
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5762
Make Your Parents and Teachers Proud
Shlomo Katz - 5763
Holiness - Served Fresh
Shlomo Katz - 5764
Of Death, Selflessness, and Service
Rabbi Aron Tendler - 5764
For I am Holy
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5759
Love Your Neighbor: Who Needs Friends?
Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene - 5766
Enjoyment as a Guide
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5765
Rabbi Label Lam - 5771
Shlomo Katz - 5772
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5763
Holy Kitchen, Holy Sidewalk, Holy Workplace
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5765
Not Every Thing is Spelled Out in Shulchan Aruch
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5771