And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your will that I bury my dead from before me, listen to me and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar. That he may give me the Machpelah Cave, which belongs to him, which is at the end of his field; for a full price let him give it to me in your midst for burial property.” (Bereshit 23:8-9)
This week we read the parshah (section) of the Torah called ‘Chayei Sarah,’ which means, ‘Life of Sarah.’ Ironically, the parshah opens with the death of Sarah and Abraham seeking out a place to bury his beloved wife. Although Abraham has been promised by God on several occasions that his offspring will inherit the Holy Land, he has yet acquire even a foothold big enough for a burial plot.
So when Sarah dies, Abraham approaches the locals in the nearby town of Hebron and asks to purchase a plot of land, the cave of Machpelah and the entire field in which it lies. The parshah then takes us in somewhat agonizing detail through the negotiation process over this piece of land. First Ephron offers it to Abraham as a gift. But Abraham doesn’t want any possible challenge to his ownership and insists on paying in full. Eventually Ephron names a price, Abraham pays and is thus able to bury Sarah.
Why does the Torah go into such depth about this purchase? When we read the Torah we always have to ask ourselves why something is included or excluded from the narrative. Although traditionally we accept the Torah as factually true, it is not a history book. The Torah makes no claim to being a comprehensive history. In fact many great rabbis believe parts of the story are not in chronological order. The Torah is a textbook, an instruction manual for teaching about God and how to live a holy life in this world. Every story, every word, every expression in the Torah is aimed at teaching us something.
Now let’s return to our question. Why is this story told in such detail? The most common explanation among our sages is that this story is the first claim of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, and therefore it needs to be extremely clear that this claim is legitimate, that it was a purchase which is not revocable, not a gift relying on the good graces of others.
One might ask why this matters, and with good reason. After all, the nations who challenge the Jewish people’s right to the Land of Israel will hardly be convinced by our holy book! But the message is not for them. It’s for us.
As we see more clearly than ever in the age of social media and instant communication, the narrative that triumphs in the public sphere is the one whose partisans believe it and hold it forth with the most conviction and consistency. The parshah is telling us, “Don’t be afraid. And don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for returning to your homeland. First God gave this land to you, and then you purchased it, and only then did you conquer it in war.”
Today the battle in Israel is not physical. Israel controls overwhelming physical force against the Palestinians. The ‘stabbing intifada,’ is about fear, not power. If Israel so desired, we could turn Gaza, Judea and Samaria into lifeless deserts in a matter of hours through intensive bombing. We have won the local battle for physical supremacy, and that is why our enemies are resorting to low level attacks with kitchen implements. But the battle for legitimacy, for self confidence, goes on.
If you want to find out more about modern day Hebron and possibilities for visiting CLICK HERE or on the picture.