A Permanent Memorial of True Ideas
One of the most difficult questions we all must face is where our final resting place will be. Some people are fortunate; this burden is alleviated by their already having a designated burial place with a place in a family plot. It is quite understandable that financial considerations are also part of this decision. We are all familiar with commercials and advertisements advising us to take advantage of pre-paid funeral arrangements. No doubt this advice is reasonable and can reduce the monetary stress and burden often placed on those that are responsible to carry out the burial and funeral arrangements.
From this week’s Torah reading, Chayei Sarah, however, it is apparent that Avraham did not pre-purchase a burial plot for Sarah. Rather, we find him in a very common situation. In the midst of his grief, Avraham must now buy a burial plot for his wife. What important idea is the Torah highlighting for us by recording this event?
To arrive at one lesson from this account, we must ask another question related to the choice of a burial plot. Does the choice of the burial place communicate something special to the survivors or is the choice simply a practical matter?
Avraham and Sarah were, first and foremost, educators of the first order, of the highest rank. Everything they did in life was to teach the world true ideas about God of the universe. What did they teach humanity by the choice of where they were buried? At the outset of this week’s portion, the Torah tells us Avraham was recognized as a prophet of God. He was also accorded the same dignity and honor granted to a king from a powerful nation. The Midrash tells us that Avraham minted his own coins. His currency was accepted and used in commerce the same way every independent nation’s currency is used. The citizens of Chet offer their choicest burial plots to Avraham and add “You are a prince of God in our midst, in the choicest of our burial places bury your dead; no one of us will withhold from you his burial place.” (23:6)
While Avraham hadn’t made arrangements for his and Sarah’s final interment until now, he always knew exactly where he wanted it to be, מערת המכפלה, the Cave of Machpelah, the “double cave” in Chevron. The Torah also calls the location, “Kiriat Arbah.” Rashi explains Adam and Chava were already buried there as would Sarah and Avraham, Rivka and Yitzchak, and Leah and Yaakov, four special couples.
Of all places why did Avraham want that spot for Sarah, himself, his son, grandson and their wives? Let Avraham and Sarah have their own distinct memorial or let them have their own family plot. Let Avraham choose a place for Sarah’s burial where a miracle had been done for her or where God had appeared to him. Why be joined in death with Adam and Chava?
The mission of Avraham and Sarah, continued by Yitzchak, Yaakov and their spouses, was to teach the world true ideas of God, creator of the heavens and earth. The first, most fundamental idea is to know that God exists. But second is to know that God’s creation of the universe includes a design and plan for mankind. Part of the plan, revealed to us by the Torah, includes the development and creation of a unique nation, the People of Israel, by virtue of the fact that mankind can have a direct relationship with the Creator. Such was and is the case attested to by Avraham and his descendants.
These two fundamental concepts are linked by Avraham’s purchase of the burial place for Sarah. It is the same burial ground in which the first two human beings are interred. By securing Machpelah as the final resting place for Sarah, himself and his family, Avraham is cementing the connection between these two concepts. God, abstract and distant creator of the universe, has a closeness and special relation with Avraham’s progeny, the Children of Israel.
By virtue of Avraham’s development he establishes a unique relationship with God. This relationship culminates in a covenant between him and God for the ultimate possession of Canaan. The Children of Israel’s later conquest and possession of Canaan isn’t just out of practical necessity or historical happenstance. No! Their claim and rightful possession of Canaan, which becomes the Land of Israel, is only due to the covenant God made with Avraham.
Later, Yitzchak and Yaakov established unique relationships with God in their own right. Each representing an additional yet different concept in that relationship with God. With whom is their personal relationship established? It is with the same God, creator of heavens and earth who is the creator of the first man and woman. King David was astounded that such a relationship between man and God is possible. He rhetorically stated, “What is man that You, God, should be mindful of him.” Aristotle and Einstein missed this sublime concept completely.
How would this conceptual link be memorialized for all future generations of mankind? How could even a simple person learn this true idea of God’s relationship to man? Avraham’s purchase of the final resting place of Adam and Chava for Sarah, himself and selected family members would impart this idea forever.
So how did Avraham come to choose a burial place? He was motivated by only one consideration to teach and reflect the true ideas of God. At מערת המכפלה fundamental truths of God are attested for all who take the time to contemplate its significance.
Rabbi Robert Kaplan