One of the most difficult questions we all must face is where our final resting place will be? Some people are fortunate and this burden is somewhat alleviated. They already have a designated burial place with their share 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.
From this week’s Torah reading, 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 a more basic yet related question to the one above. How does someone choose where to be buried? 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 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 citizens of Het offer their choicest burial plots to Avraham and add “… no one of us will withhold from you his burial place…”
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 Hevron. The Torah also calls the location, “Kiriyat 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. Part of the plan, revealed to us by the Torah, includes a special creation called human beings. Properly developed, human beings not only can recognize God but they can establish a direct relationship with God as well.
These two fundamental concepts are linked by Avraham’s purchase for the burial of Sarah, the same cave in which the first two human beings are buried. By placing Sarah there now, and securing it for himself and his family to come, Avraham is cementing the connection between these two concepts. God, creator of the universe can and does relate directly to man.
By virtue of Avraham’s development he establishes a unique relationship with God. This relationship culminates in a covenant between them 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. 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, then, 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 and man? Avraham’s purchase of the final resting place of Adam and Chava for his wife, Sarah, to be used later for himself, his son and grandson would perpetuate this idea forever.
So how did Avraham come to choose a burial place? He was motivated by only one consideration. Every experience of life, even the death and burial of a loved one, was used by Avraham, and later by all of our patriarchs and matriarchs, 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 their significance.
Rabbi Robert Kaplan