Parashat Chayei Sarah

Sarah's Life

23:1 Sarah's life was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years. [These were] the years of Sarah's life.

The Akeidah was the cause of Sarah's death. [Sarah died immediately after the Akeydah; incidently, it is by this fact the Akeidah is dated.] This is what happened:

Ha-satan saw that he could get nowhere in his efforts to persuade Avraham and Yitzchak, since neither of them would pay attention to his words. He therefore disguised himself as an old man riding on a camel (Sifethei Cohen), and went to Sarah, who was waiting in Beer Sheva. He said to her, "Don't you realize what has happened to you? Your husband took your precious son, built an altar, bound his hands and feet, and offered him as a human sacrifice. Yitzchak screamed and pleaded for mercy, but he had no pity."

Upon hearing this, Sarah cried out in a bitter voice, banging her head on the wall, so great was her misery. She wandered through the hill country toward Chevron, asking everyone she encountered if he had seen them. She sent her servants to the academy of Shem and Ever and to other places, to see if they could find them.

When Sarah arrived in Chevron, she sought out the three giants who lived there, Achiman, Sheshai and Talmai, and asked them if they had seen an old man together with three younger men. They replied, "We saw an old man and a younger man on one of the mountains. The young man was bound head and foot, and the old man had a knife in his hands. A cloud then covered the mountain and we could see no more."

Sarah was beside herself with grief. Suddenly ha-satan appeared again, in a different disguise. He asked why she was weeping so bitterly, and she told him what had happened. He said, "Don't you believe that old man (referring to his previous disguise). He's a known liar. I just saw Yitzchak alive and well."

When Sarah heard these words, she was so elated that she went into shock and died. (Rashi; Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer; Sefer HaYasher).

The Torah informs us that Sarah lived 127 years and died in Chevron.

The Torah then repeats, "[These were] the years of Sarah's life." These words appear to be redundant. The Torah is teaching us that Sarah was not meant to live longer than this. One should not think that she died only because of her shock at hearing ha-satan's words. Actually, she had been destined to live this number of years and no more. G-d allows a tzaddik to live out his allotted time; He does not take away even a single day. (Rabbi Moshe ibn Chaviv; Kli Chemdah; Sifethei Chohen. Cf. Zera Berach, Part 1) The direct cause of her death, however, was the shock. (Yafeh Toar)

We find that King David asked G-d to tell him how long he would live. He said, "O G-d, let me know my end; what is the measure of my days?" (Tehillim 39:5).

"I have long ago decreed," replied G-d, "that no human being shall know when he will die. But I will tell you one thing. You will die on the Shabbat."

"I would much rather die on a Sunday. Then people would be able to honor me and eulogize me. If I die on the Shabbat, people will not even be allowed to touch my body. I will have to be buried immediately, without eulogy."

"It is impossible. By Sunday, it will already be time for your son Shlomo to be king. One reign cannot even take a hairbreadth from another."

"Then let me die earlier. Let it be on Friday before the Shabbat."

That is also impossible. 'A day in your courtyards is better than a thousand' (Tehillim 84:11). I would rather have you study Torah for an additional day than have the thousand sacrifices that your son Shlomo will offer when he builds the Holy Temple."

King David therefore knew for certain that he would die on a Shabbat. Although he always studied Torah day and night, on the Shabbat he began to do so for twenty-four hours, without any interruption whatsoever. When the Angel of Death approached, it could not touch him; his mouth never stopped uttering words of Torah.

Since his time had come, the Angel of Death went out to the courtyard behind the palace and started to shake the trees violently. Still reciting Torah by heart, David went out to see what was wrong. Hearing a noise in the trees, he took a ladder and climbed up to investigate. Ha-satan, however, had loosened one of the ladder's rungs, and when it fell out under his weight, David stopped reciting words of Torah for a moment. At that instant he died. (Shabbat, Chapter 2)

This is very similar to what happened to Sarah.

We also learn an important lesson from the grammar of this verse. [In Hebrew, the plural is only used for less than ten things. For more than ten, one reverts to the singular.] In this verse, the Torah says, "Sarah's life was one hundred years (shanah, in the singular), twenty years (shanah, in the singular), and seven years (shanim, in the plural)." For "one hundred," the Torah uses the singular shanah for "years," while for seven it uses the plural shanim.

This teaches us that he who is small in this world will be great and honored in the Olam Habah. One who considers himself big will be small there. Therefore in the case of "one hundred" and "twenty" the Torah uses the singular. One thinks that these are large numbers - but they are actually small. "Seven" on the other hand, takes the plural. If one makes himself small in this world, considering himself little and avoiding pride, in the Future world, he will be great and important. (Zohar, Sh'lach).

23:2Sarah died in Kiriat Arba (Chevron) in the land of Kena'an. Avraham arrived to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her.

After the Akeidah, Avraham came to Be'er Sheva, but did not find Sarah there. People told him that she had gone to Chevron to look for her son. When Avraham arrived in Chevron, he discovered that Sarah had died.

There is another opinion that Yitzchak went to Sarah first and told her all that had happened at the Akeidah. He said, "If the angel had not called down from heaven, I would have been killed." Just the thought of that killed Sarah. (VaYikra Rabbah, Acharey Mot)

Actually, Sarah did not feel bad because Avraham wanted to kill Yitzchak. She was a great saint, and would have accepted G-d s decree with as much joy as Avraham. But when she heard that Avraham had been so insensitive as to be ready to kill Yitzchak without even telling her that this was G-d's command, she was very distressed. She loved Yitzchak very much, and before anything irreversible was done, the matter should have been investigated thoroughly. Realizing that G-d had only meant to test Yitzchak, she thought that he might even have been killed in vain as a result of Avraham's impulsiveness. (Yafeh Toar, p. 346)

The Torah says, "Avraham came to eulogize Sarah," rather than, "Avraham came and eulogized Sarah. This alludes to the fact that the people waited for Avraham, and did not eulogize Sarah until he came. (Ahavat Olam) [In those days the eulogy formed the main part of the funeral service. This means that Sarah's funeral was delayed until Avraham arrived.)

Sarah died in Tishrei, 2085 (Sept. 1677 b.c.e.) when she was 127 years old. She died in Chevron. (Abudraham, laws of Rosh HaShanah)

23:3Avraham rose up from besides his dead and spoke to the children of Chet, saying, 4 "I am a foreigner and a resident among you. Give me property for a burial site with you, so that I may bury my dead out of my presence."

The earlier the dead are buried, the greater their peace. Avraham therefore hurried to make preparations for Sarah's burial. (Ralbag)

He spoke to the citizens of Chevron, who were the children of Chet. He said, "[I am a foreigner and a resident among you.] If you accept me as a foreigner, it will be best. But if not, I will be a 'resident' among you since G-d has already given me the land." (Bereyshit Rabbah; Rashi)

As long as the Kena'anim were in the land, Avraham did not actually take possession of it, as we discussed in Parashat Lech Lecha. (Mizrachi) This, however, only was true of the land of Kena'an as a whole. As long as their measure had not been filled, Avraham had no right to take their land against their will. But he had the right to take what he needed, such as property for a burial ground. Yafeh Toar p. 348

This was especially true after Yitzchak was born. Then the condition that G-d had made with Avraham was fulfilled: "To your offspring I have given this land" (12:7) (Chizzkuni)

Avraham said, "Now all I want is a small piece of ground that I may own as a burial site. There I will bury my dead, and remove it from my presence."

Some explain Avraham's statement somewhat differently. Avraham said, "Both you and I are foreigners in this world, although we consider ourselves residents and own homes and property. In the end we will all die, and one must think about this in advance. Therefore give me property for a burial site, since I want to be ready when my time comes to die. Now, however, I merely want to bury my dead - Sarah, who lies before me." (Rabbi Eliahu ibn Chaim [Raanach])

23:5 The children of Chet replied to Avraham, saying to him, 6 "Hear us, my master, you are a prince of G-d in our midst. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial sites. No man among us will deny his burial site from you to bury your dead."

They replied, "Listen, my master, to what we are telling you. We accept you as a master and prince, since we know your greatness. (Bereishit Rabbah) We give you the authority to pick the choicest field and let it remain in your possession as a private cemetery. No man among us will refuse you land or try to prevent you from burying your dead wherever you desire."

They did not say, "You are a prince of G-d over us." but, "you are a prince of G-d in our midst." It was as if to say, "Although you are a prince of G-d, you do not act as if you were any greater than us. Instead, you are 'in our midst' - just like one of us. We therefore feel all the more obliged to honor you and let you have your choice of gravesites." (Ahavat Tziyon)

23:7 Avraham rose and bowed down to the people of the land, the children of Chet.

They thought that he bowed down in their honor. Actually, however, Avraham bowed down in reverence to G-d, thanking Him that the people were immediately willing to accede to his requests, although he was a foreigner.

[Avraham also wished to honor the Chittim.] The people of Chevron had attended Sarah's funeral, escorting her bier. To do so, they closed their businesses and stopped working, in honor of Sarah, and as an act of kindness to Avraham. (Yoreh Deah 343, 361)

23:8 [Avraham] spoke to them, saying, "If it is really your will that I bury my dead out of my presence, listen to me and intercede for me with 'Efron, son of Tzochar. 9 Let him give me Machpelah Cave, which belongs to him, on the edge of his field. Let him give it to me in your presence for its full price, as a burial property.

Avraham was aware that the Chittim did not want to take money for a gravesite. But Avraham did not like to take gifts. He therefore, told them that he would purchase the site for whatever price was asked. (Yafeh Toar, p. 48)

There was a man there by the name of 'Efron son of Tzochar, who owned Machpelah Cave. It was called Machpelah [from the root kaphal meaning "double"] because it had two levels. Others say that it was a cave within a cave. It was a safe place, perfect for a sepulcher. (Rashi)

Avraham knew that Adam and Chavah were buried in this cave. He realized that it would be a great merit to be buried there. (Bereishit Rabbah)

Avraham found out about the cave when the three angels visited him. He had gone to the flock to choose three cattle to prepare for his guests. One of them ran away, and Avraham had to chase it. The cow ran into Machpelah Cave, and when Avraham followed it, he saw Adam and Chavah buried there. The fragrance of the cave refreshed his spirit, and he made it a habit to worship there each day. It was also the place where G-d would speak to him. Knowing that it was a holy place, Avraham longed to be buried there. (Pirkei rabbi Eliezer; Zohar, VaYera; Yalkut Reuveni)

Another reason that Avraham wanted Sarah buried in this cave was because one should avoid burial among the wicked. Since the Chittim were immoral, Avraham did not want to bury Sarah with them in the same cemetery. (Ralbag)

Avraham asked the people to go to 'Efron and make a deal so that he would sell the field. Avraham was willing to offer a good price. He made the people his agents and instructed them that they should try to convince 'Efron if he does not want to sell. (Bereishit Rabbah)

Of course, Avraham could have made the deal without even consulting the other citizens, much less making them his agents. But had he done so, they would have had a claim to the field, saying that since they owned neighboring fields, they should have had the first chance to buy the cave. Avraham therefore consulted with them and made them his agents. he would then not have to be concerned that they would later challenge his purchase. (An original explanation. Cf. Chen Tov; Rabbi Yosef of Trani)

23:10 'Efron was sitting in the midst of the children of Chet. 'Efron the Chitti replied to Avraham before the children of Chet, for all who came to the city gate to hear, saying, 11 "No my master. Listen to me. I have given you the field. The cave that is in it I have [also] given to you. Before the eyes of the children of my people I have given it to you. Bury your dead."

Some say that 'Efron had just been appointed governor. He was given this honor on the spot out of respect for Avraham. It would not have been proper for a great man such as Avraham to deal with a mere commoner.

This is alluded to in the phrase, "'Efron was sitting in the midst of the children of Chet." In the Torah scroll, the word for "sitting yoshev is written without a vav. [It can therefore also be read yashav in the past tense. Such a form indicates something that is happening for the first time.] This indicates that he had just then been given the right to sit on the throne of authority. (Bereishit Rabbah; Rashi)

The agents gave 'Efron Avraham's message, and he replied, "It would not be right to purchase this cave for money. Take the field and the cave as a gift. Since you are such a great man, it would not be proper that you own only the cave that you are using as a burial place, while others own the surrounding field. Therefore, I would like to give you the field along with the cave." (Ramban)

Since Avraham was an important personage and did not speak the Chitti language well, he spoke through an interpreter. Therefore, in each statement, the Torah adds the word "saying" (lemor). Avraham gave his message to his interpreter, who spoke it to the Chittim. The answer was also given through the translator. (Sifetei Cohen)

23:12 Avraham bowed down to the people of the land. 13 He spoke to 'Efron so that all the people of the land could hear, saying, "If you will only listen to me. I have given you the money for the field. Take it from me, and I will bury my dead there."

Avraham bowed to the people, as it was the custom at the time. He said to 'Efron, "You wish to give me a present, but that is not what I want. The money is ready."

23:14 'Efron replied to Avraham, saying to him. 15 "My master, listen to me. What is four hundred silver shekels worth of land between you and me? Bury your dead."

'Efron replied, "The whole plot of land is worth only four hundred shekels. What is this between good friends like us? Go ahead and bury your dead."

23:16 Avraham listened to 'Efron, and Avraham weighed out for 'Efron the silver that he spoke of in the hearing of the children of Chet, four hundred silver shekels, negotiable currency.

'Efron knew that Avraham was very wealthy, and gave Avraham's property the evil eye. (Bereishit Rabbah)

[In the Torah, 'Efron is usually spelled with a vav.] In this case, however, it is written without the vav. This indicates that 'Efron's stature had been reduced. He had promised much, but had delivered little. When Avraham wanted to pay, he demanded full-size coins that would be universally negotiable. (Rashi)

In its abbreviated form, the numerical value of 'Efron is 400. [Ayin = 70, Peh = 80, Resh = 200, Nun = 50.] This is also the numerical value of 'Ayin Ra, meaning "Evil Eye." (Yafeh Toar, p. 348)

This indicates that since he had the audacity to demand such a large sum, he was actually a low class individual. The Torah therefore deletes a letter from his name. Furthermore, he was punished for his jealously of Avraham and for giving him the evil eye.

The Talmud states that whenever the Torah refers to a shekel, it means a coin weighing a sela. Each of Avraham's shekels, however, weighed a centenar, which is one hundred sela'im.

A sela is the weight of 384 average barleycorns. (Yad, Shekelim 1:2. [A maah is 16 grains of barley, a dinar 6 maa'in, and a sela is 4 dinerin.] A dram is the weight of 32 barleycorns. Therefore, a sela is 12 drams [approx. 3/4 of a modern ounce]. (An avoirdupois ounce is 16 drams. The modern pound is 7000 modern grains. The modern grain, however, is somewhat heavier than the grain of barley used here. The avoirdupois pound would weigh 8192 grains of barley.] [Each of Avraham's shekels therefore weighed 1200 drams or 75 ounces.] The 400 shekels that Avraham paid was therefore 480,000 drams [or 30,000 ounces] of pure silver. [In modern currency, this would be $18,000.] (In Biblical times, the purchasing power of an Avoirdupois ounce of silver was approx. 60 cents. The current price of silver is 5.50 an ounce, so according to the fist opinion, the silver used to buy the field and cave would now be worth $165,000. According to the second opinion, it would be $258,000. In those days, even the lesser amount was obviously an excessive price for the property. We find that Omri paid only 6000 shekels for the entire territory of Samaria (1Melachim 16:25). For a property that was probably at least as large as the field of Machpelah, Yirmeyahu paid only 17 Shekels (Yirmeyahu 32:9)

According to another opinion, each shekel here was 100 manin. (Rashi, Bava Metzia 87a, s.v. kenetar. [A mana is 600 brains of barley.] A mana is 18 3/4 drams [or 1.17 ounces]. Each shekel was therefore 1875 drams [or 117 ounces]. Avraham's four hundred shekels thus came out to be 750,000 drams [or 46,875 ounces] of silver. [In modern currency, this would be $28,125.],br>

[Some interpret the phrase over la-socher here to mean, "passed over for merchandise."] 'Efron was afraid that some of the coins that Avraham would give him would be deficient or short weighted. He therefore asked Avraham to buy merchandise for the 400 shekels and give it to him. He then knew for certain that he would obtain his full price.

23:17 'Efron's field in Machpelah, facing Mamre - the field, its cave, and all the trees in the field in all its boundaries from all sides - became the property of Avraham 18 through a purchase before the eyes of the children of Chet, all who had come to the gate of his city. 19 Avraham then buried his wife Sarah in the cave of Machpelah Field, which faces Mamre (Chevron) in the land of Kena'an.

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