Saturday, November 14, 2009

Parshas Chayei Sarah - Life and Death

Parshas Chayei Sarah records three deaths. The death of Sarah and Avraham, our foremother and forefather, and the death of Ishmael. Even though Ishmael in actuality died a good deal later than Avraham, his death is recorded along with what little significance his life contained.

Where the description of Sarah and Avraham's deaths repeats the word Chai or Chayei twice, the death of Ishmael simply states it once. That is because where Sarah and Avraham had both a life in this world and a life in the afterlife, Ishmael had only his life in the world here.

Also because Ishmael's life was purely one dimensional physical life in this world, while Avraham and Sarah lived both a physical and a spiritual life. Hence their accumulation of years is described with the word Chai used twice, to indicate a fully lived life.

Hence it is said, Tzaddikim Bemitatam Keruyim Chaim, The Righteous in their Deaths are still called Living. Reshoim Bechayeichem Keruyim Meitim. While the Wicked even when Alive are considered Dead. That is because the good that people do lives on after them. The righteous may pass away from this world, but their contributions to it keep them alive in it. While the wicked are spiritually dead even when physically alive and contribute nothing to the life of the world.

Ishmael was dead even when alive, thus his death closes out Parshas Chayei Sarah, enumerated even while he was still alive. In contrast to Sarah whose death is told at the completion of her actual life.


When Avraham goes to bury Sarah, he seeks out the Maarat Hamachpelah, a particular cave that would become known as the Cave of the Patriarchs.

He chooses the cave because it is also the site of the resting place of Adam and Chava, the first man and the first woman. To Ephron the Hittite however the cave is an afterthought for the field. And so Ephron throws in the cave for "free", while trying to sell Avraham the field, which he had not asked for.

A cave is a place of depth, to see it requires going beyond the obvious. Ephron did not have that ability. To him the field mattered, not the cave or its hidden depths. To Avraham by contrast the cave mattered more than the field or the extravagant sum of money that Ephron finally demanded from him.

At the end when the purchase is made, the Torah writes, "VaYakam HaSadeh", "The Field Arose". It did not literally rise, but it gained dimension from its new place. Ephron had only seen it as a plot of earth, while Avraham had seen it as the resting place of his ancestors. Ephron had sold an ancestral plot of land for money, while Avraham had acquired one of the most significant places in the world without ever counting the cost.

By purchasing the Maarat Hamachpelah for Sarah's burial, Avraham had honored his wife by making her first person after Adam and Chava to be buried, and by using her death to gain title to one of the great cultural treasures of the world.


How do we know from the first that Rivka is a greater prophetess than Yitzchak? While Yitzchak has to take her into his mother's house in order to understand who she is, Rivka understood who Yitzchak was even when she saw him from afar. Her ability to see further proved valuable in distinguishing Esav from Yaakov, allowing her to guide Yaakov earlier on. While Yitzchak only became aware of the difference between Esav and Yaakov when in the same room with them during the brachos.


Rivka's family blessed her that her descendants should inherit the gates of their enemies. When did this happen? Shortly thereafter when Yaakov returned to Lavan's house, and managed to inherit both his daughters and most of his property, as Lavan's sons said that Yaakov had taken all that belonged to their father. Thus the blessing, quite possibly given insincerely by Lavan, wound up coming true at his own expense.


  1. Our sages say Ishmel did Tshuveh, here are two differing Parsha takes on Chaya Sara

    Vayera: Isaac and Ishmael
    by Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin
    Their lives will always be intertwined.

    Chaye Sara - from the office of the Chief Rabbi

  2. there is a view that he did Tesuvah, there is a view that he did not