"And the field and the cave within it were established to Avraham as burial property, purchased from the sons of Heth."
Cheshvan 18, 5771/October 26, 2010
Avraham avinu - Abraham our father - is renowned for the gracious manner in which he invited wayfarers and hosted them in his tent. In fact, his tent, as our sages tell us, was a square tent with entrances on all four sides, so that any travelers passing by would see the open entrance and immediately feel welcome to stop in and rest, receive a hearty meal, be refreshed and be tended to by Avraham himself. The most famous of these occasions is, of course, that which is documented in Torah, in which three passing sojourners are approached by Avraham, still weak from his circumcision. Interrupting an encounter he is experiencing with G-d, Avraham runs to meet these three passing strangers, (whom he imagines to be idol worshippers, based on their appearance), bathes their feet, and invites them for a meal. While Sara prepares cakes for them Avraham runs after a young calf among his livestock, in order to slaughter it and prepare for them a meal. Of course the three strangers prove to be three angels with a special message for Avraham and Sara, but had Avraham not run to greet them and bless them with his hospitality, the rest of the story would never have occurred.
We are taught that the actions of the fathers, (the patriarchs), are signs and instructions for the children, (the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov). We are meant to learn from their example, in how we treat one another, how we deal with the nations, and in our relationship with G-d. Certainly we are to learn from Avraham the importance of hospitality and welcoming guests into our home. What truly marked Avraham was not simply that he was a friendly and gracious host, always welcoming an opportunity to greet a new face and make a new friend, but the energy and initiative, determination and persistence that characterized, not just the manner in which he pursued his three heavenly guests, but how he pursued all the challenges and goals of life that G-d set before him.
Avraham employed the same zeal and unwavering determination when carrying out G-d's command to bind and offer up his son Yitzchak, the supreme and most perilous challenge of Avraham's life. And it is with the same meticulous attention to detail and respect and concern for others that Avraham purchased the burial cave of Machpelah as a final resting place for Sara. And leaving nothing to chance, Avraham instructs his servant Eliezer to travel abroad to find a bride for his son Yitzchak. But why was Avraham so concerned and proactive in purchasing a plot of land in Israel and finding a suitable bride for his son? After all, had not Avraham already secured G-d's promise that his progeny would inherit the land? Why work so hard to accomplish a promise that you have already pocketed?
Avraham understood intuitively that the Divine promise he received from G-d was not a carte blanch or a one-way all-expenses-paid ticket, but a covenant, a contract which required that both parties work toward the achievement of the common goal. G-d's promise is eternal, G-d's promise is irrevocable, G-d's promise is unassailable, but G-d's promise will only be fulfilled through the undaunted efforts of His children. Actively engaging G-d and actively pursuing their common aim of making G-d a welcome "guest" in this world was what personified Avraham, from his rebel days in Ur, and later, his "making of souls" in Haran, and finally his laying down of the spiritual cornerstone for the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah, (the binding of Yitzchak), and his laying of the physical cornerstone for Jewish settlement and possession of the land of Israel in Hevron, (the purchasing of the Machpelah). This is the legacy of Avraham that he has bequeathed to his children. We are not to rest until we have secured our place in the land of Israel and G-d's place in this world via the building of the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah and the renewal of the Divine service. This is G-d's promise and this is our challenge. Nothing less!
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss this week's Torah reading of Chayei Sarah, which opens up with our forefather Avraham's purchase of the "Double Cave" in Hevron. Why does Torah emphasize this so much, and what is our connection to this mysterious, ancient place whose very name, Hevron, means "connection?" All this in the light, (or darkness), of this week's statements issued by the Synod of Catholic bishops which essentially "cancels" promises made by G-d to our father Avraham, to all the patriarchs, to Moses and to the entire people of Israel. What exquisite timing! What better week to cast doubt on the Biblical connection to our homeland, than the very week in which Torah testifies to that connection!