Caved In: Chayei Sara 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What do our possessions say about ourselves? Is it appropriate to evaluate others based on their possessions? Do you agree with the idea that when you own things, the things begin to own you?

For numerous possible reasons, Abraham wants to make sure that, after his wife Sarah’s death, he can purchase and own the Cave of Machpelah for her burial:

The Pitch: “Then Abraham bowed low before the people of the land, and spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If only you would hear me out! Let me pay the price of the land; accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.’” – Genesis 24:12-13

Swing #1: “It is ironic that much as he used Sarah during her lifetime as the instrument of acquisition, Abraham does so still upon her death. … Abraham uses Sarah’s very body as the means for garnering exactly what he desires. It is as though he is determined to employ Sarah for one last ploy, for old times’ sake. It is for this reason that he is unwilling to gracefully accede to Ephron’s generous offer of a burial plot, for Abraham’s chief interest is not the burial of his wife so much as it is the deed, the contract, the irrevocable ownership of property in the land of Canaan.” – Burton L. Visotzky, The Genesis of Ethics

Swing #2: “The site of the Makhpelah Cave is the gate of [the Garden of] Eden through which all souls ascend, and its light is very great. Even so, for him [Ephron] it was a place of blackness and obscurity. This is why he very happily sold it to Abraham.” – Likutei Moharan

Swing #3: “Our sages regarded [this] incident as constituting one of the ten trials to which Abraham was subjected. The greater the contrast between the promise and the fulfillment, between the vision and the reality, the greater the challenge. ” – Nehama Leibovitz, New Studies in Bereshit (Genesis)

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators evaluate Abraham’s insistence on owning the Cave of Machpelah? Was Abraham’s transaction necessary given that God had promised his descendants the land in the first place? Or was it necessary for Abraham to show outsiders a legacy of ownership in the area? Is it wrong to purchase something mainly to prove something to other people?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It won’t be long before our JBQ (annual Kosher barbecue competition) — this year, it will take place Sunday, December 15th. Contact the office to buy your tickets and to offer items for our silent auction!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of ownership, billions of dollars are spent every year on baseball (and, of course, other sports) memorabilia. For many, these purchases are part of a hobby; others, however, see them as a way to prove their devotion to their favorite player or team. How much sports “swag” should a true fan have?

Shabbat Shalom!