Parshat Chayei Sarah: A Homeland Built on Love, Caring and Chessed

Rabbanit Sally Mayer is the Rosh Midrasha of Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program

Sally Mayer

After attending the funeral yesterday of Rose Lubin HY”D, when I went to sleep that night, I had a nightmare. The first part of it was that I was hosting students at my house but the house was not clean and I was embarrassed (this was the part of the dream that is true and made me laugh), and in the second part I was at the beach with my children and terrorists came out of the water to attack, and I was trying to carry them to run away – this part was true for fellow Jews recently and not at all funny.

In Israel now, and throughout the world to some extent, we feel threatened, and we just want to protect our family, our students, our loved ones, our fellow citizens. We know this is our homeland and the place where we need to feel safe – that sense of security has been threatened and we are working hard to rebuild it. I take inspiration from this week’s parsha in two things that Avraham does that show he is focused on life, even in the face of death.

When Avraham loses his dear wife Sarah, right after the akeida where he almost lost Yitzchak, he must have been overcome with grief. At the same time, he realizes that while he has come to this promised land, he has yet to own a piece of it, and needs to go to the Canaanite landowners and seek the opportunity to bury his wife. He does not want a burial plot as a favor, though – he wants to buy it at full price so that he can have an achuza in the land, even though he knows the full promise will come only later, to future generations. In the dialogue at the beginning of the parsha, a close reading shows that while Avraham asked to buy just ma’arat hamachpela, Efron puts in the field as well and backhandedly demands a high price for both, possibly in the hopes that Avraham would give up. Little did Efron know that this was even more than Avraham could have hoped for – not only does he achieve the goal of burying Sarah, but he gets a field in which to live as well. The Torah emphasizes that the trees in the field were also Avraham’s – signifying growth and life. Avraham affirms life in Israel – he sets out to bury the dead, but he ends up with a place to live.

The second way that Avraham focuses on the future is in seeking a wife for Yitzchak. He tells his servant that he must look for a wife not from the Canaanites, and that Yitzchak may not leave Israel, she must come here, to the promised land. The servant comes up with a test – the test of chessed. The parallels to Avraham are unmistakable – Rivkah greets the stranger, gives him water, and then goes above and beyond in giving water to his flock of thirsty camels. The Torah describes her “hurrying” and “running,” just as Avraham did. And when she is asked, hatelchi – will you go?, she answers elech – I will go. This is Rivkah’s Lech Lecha moment, parallel to Avraham’s. Avraham ensures the continuity of life by finding a wife for Yitzchak, and one who will continue the values and tradition of their family, of chessed and kindness to all.

This chessed is so apparent right now in Israel. Everyone is helping everyone else, and I am attaching below a beautiful modern rendition of the often-told story about how Jerusalem was chosen, as a result of brothers who each thought that the other needed something more, and wanted to help him. And it’s apparent as well throughout the world, as Diaspora Jews send financial support, supplies for soldiers, notes, and so much more, and as they rally and advocate for Israel at this trying time.

We are one people – with a strong sense that this is our homeland, all the way back to Avraham, a place where we bury the dead when we have to, but also a place where we LIVE. And this homeland is built on love between us, on chessed and caring that we are seeing so much these days.

Jeruslem parable

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