Title transference

Avraham Avinu provided an alternate path to war, the path of negotiating with other nations who will not recognize our foothold on the Land, but would be willing to serve their own interests through negotiation.

Rabbanit Shira Smiles

Judaism Learning Torah
Learning Torah
Flash 90

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

When Sarah Imenu dies at the beginning of Parshat Chayei Sarah, Avraham Avinu knows the place that would be the most dignified and honorable final resting place for his beloved wife, Meorat Hamachpelah/the Double cave belonging to Ephron the Hittite in the Land of Heth facing Hebron.

The Torah goes into great detail describing not only the exact location, but especially the negotiations between Avraham and Ephron in front of all the Hittites for the purchase of the surrounding fields and trees as well as the cave itself. Besides the exorbitant price Avraham pays for the plot even though it was originally offered as a gift, the Torah records that the cave and the land and surrounding trees was confirmed/vayokom as Avraham’s purchase and then again, after Sara’s burial, once again vayokom/ confirms the estate as a burial site from the children of Heth.

Any time the Torah goes to such extraordinary detail and then seemingly repeats itself, we are forced to ask what added significance we can deduce from these additional words. Why was Ephron, and indeed the Hittites, so reluctant to sell Avraham the plot but willing to give it to him as a gift? Indeed, if the land belonged to Ephron, why have the townspeople there at all?

The Ner Uziel begins our discussion by citing the medrash that our ancestors bought three sites in Eretz Yisroel at full value. Avraham Avinu bought Chevron, Yaakov Avinu bought Shechem, and David Hamelech bought Har Habayit. The number three represents permanence and stability. These three represent the eternal backbone of Judaism’s title to the Land of Israel. But the nations of the world will not recognize this argument.

Bnei Yisroel have two paths in acquiring the Land. When Yehoshua led us into the Land after forty years in the desert, we acquired the land through conquest. But we do not always merit acquiring the Land through conquest. Avraham Avinu foresaw this and provided an alternate path to acquisition, the path of negotiating with other nations who will not recognize our foothold on the Land, but would be willing to serve their own interests through negotiation. Vayokom not only established a permanent foothold in the Land, but also established another permanent path to acquisition.

It is this context of national acquisition that is the focus of Rabbi Zweig in Infinity of Torah. Avraham was concerned that even if he bought the plot from Ephron, the land would still be Hittite territory, just as if someone in the United States sells a house to a Syrian. While the Syrian owns the house, the United States government maintains sovereignty over the land and can still confiscate it for public use at any given time. Avraham Avinu wanted the sale of the Cave and its surroundings to be not only a transfer of ownership, but also a transfer of sovereignty to him as king of the nation that would eventually descend from him. That is why he needed the representatives of the Hittite government, in addition to Ephron himself, to approve the sale and establish its permanence.

This is the point Rabbi Kram emphasizes in Talmudo Beyado, that after Sarah’s burial Avraham Avinu wanted to ensure that no one will ever have the right to appropriate this land for any other use.

We are now ready to explore Rashi’s first comment on the word vayokom. Rashi, while validating the translation of vayokom as confirming or letting stand the sale, gives another translation of the word as his first interpretation. Vayokom, says Rashi, translates as rose up, meaning that the land rose [spiritually] in stature by being transferred from a commoner to a king. If it were just a matter of transferring ownership, the operative word would have been vaya’avor/passed [from one to the other], explains Rabbi Wolbe z”l. How can an inanimate object be transformed?

Inanimate objects can have spiritual, psychological and emotional significance. Seeing the tzitzit, for example, is meant, through various associations, to bring one to an awareness of Hashem and a desire to follow in His ways. Places can have equally inspiring effects. Avraham hoped that Meorat Hamachpelah would have a similar effect. For this reason, he included the land surrounded by the trees that could be seen from afar and would emit an energy of kedushah/sanctity to all who saw it. [Indeed, Rebbetzin Smiles herself was strongly impacted with this energy when she recently spent a Shabbat in Chevron. As our Sages tell us, the entrance to Gan Eden is somewhere in this cave, and this is what drew Avraham Avinu here.]

Every object in the universe has a purpose and its own, innate energy that is subject to change. When a rasha/evil person, Ephron, owned the land, writes Rabbi Grosbard z”l, its energy was negative. When ownership was transferred to Avraham, the kedushah of Avraham Avinu enveloped the land. As Rabbi Wolbe z”l explains, this is what Rashi meant when he said that the land “rose” when Avraham purchased it. How one uses one’s belongings invests that object with the energy of its owner. We are meant to elevate our possessions and use them to serve Hashem. If we misuse them, Hashem may take them away and give them to someone who will use them properly.

Hashem imbued everything we own with the natural power of increasing, continues Rabbi Wolbe z”l. When we sin, this power is thwarted. When we elevate our possessions, they naturally increase. Rabbi Wolbe z”l cites the seeming miracle that the Prophet Elisha performed for the widow of the Prophet Ovadiah. During the reign of the evil King Achav, he personally sustained 100 of Hashem’s prophets, defying the king and his evil Queen. Now, however, his widow found herself in deep debt, and the lender was threatening to enslave her two sons in payment of the debt. Elisha instructed her to borrow from her neighbors every container and vessel she could and begin pouring from her miniscule supply of oil into these vessels. Miraculously, the oil kept flowing until all the vessels were filled. She was able to sell the oil and pay off her debt. Rabbi Wolbe z”l suggests that the oil merely resumed its natural function of increase by coming in contact with the righteous Prophet Elisha.

According to our tradition, The Psalm Eishet Chayil/A Woman of Valor was Avraham’s eulogy for his beloved wife Sarah. The medrash explains each verse in light of Sara’s life. On the verse, “Zomemah sadeh vetikachehu/She plotted and took the field,” our Sages attribute this verse to acquiring Meorat Hamachpelah and the field around it. However, it was not Sara but Avraham who bought Meorat Hamachpelah after Sarah herself died. However, when Sarah Imenu was interred in this cave, the sanctity of her life and all her deeds was absorbed by the cave. Our actions impact the world around us.

The Beis Halevi, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l cites the generation of the flood to prove this point. The people all became depraved and corrupted, and eventually the animal kingdom and the entire earth became so depraved that Hashem felt He needed to destroy the world, everything in it, and begin anew. Even if one sins privately, the negative energy permeates the surrounding environment.  Emek Haparasha brings a graphic example from Rabbi Lopian z”l who was in a yeshivah in Lomz. Patients entered the hospital with one illness but many died from an unrelated illness. It seems that the wood used for the construction of this hospital was wood re purposed from a now defunct hospital. The bacteria from the original location had remained in the wood and was now infecting new patients.  Similarly, our surroundings absorb the positive and negative energies we emit. [One need not go that far. How many epidemics begin with one carrier and one sneeze or cough infecting the air and being carried to multiple locations on the air and on the clothing of others? CKS]

Avraham Avinu had to purge the land of the tumah/impurity of Ephron. By purchasing the land, he changed it, and only then would he bury Sarah there. Avraham Avinu got the land and raised it to a sanctified level through the righteousness of Sarah’s life. The first vayokom refers to Avraham getting possession of the land and investing it with kedushah so that he could bury Sarah there; the second vayokom refers to the additional elevation the cave received through Sarah’s righteous life. There were two stages of elevation.

The concept that the righteous realize that all their possessions are to be elevated to the service of Hakodosh Boruch Hu is reinforced by the account of Yaakov Avinu crossing the Yakob River alone to retrieve some small jars of little intrinsic value. However, Yaakov realized that if Hashem gave him these jars he was meant to use them for some purpose, and so they had spiritual value. Along these lines, reminds us Rebbetzin Smiles, we can elevate even our pots and pans or plastic containers to a level of sanctity by mindfully using them for Shabbat preparation or for cooking as an act of chesed. When we recite Shema and say, “You shall love Hashem your God with all your… possessions,” we should be mindful that our money and all our possessions are gifts that allow us to form a stronger connection to Hashem by using them to do mitzvoth.

Avraham Avinu had seen the spiritual aura of Gan Eden emanating from the cave years earlier, an aura that Ephron never recognized, yet Avraham didn’t ask to buy it until Sarah’s death. Why now, asks Rabbi Eisenberger in Mesillot Bilvovom? Avraham Avinu understood that had he sought to buy the cave earlier, Ephron would have been suspicious as to its value. Now, as a burial pot, there was a legitimate, physical necessity for the cave that Ephron could understand. Avraham now wanted to recreate the sacred energy that Ephron had robbed the cave of.

In Siach Yaakov, Rabbi Yaakov Blau notes that there is a connection between this beginning of Parshat Chayei Sara and the final scene of the parsha. The parsha closes (before a listing of genealogies) with the acceptance of the proposal for Rivkha to marry Yitzchak. When Rivkah leaves the home she grew up in, the home of Betuel and Lavan, the verse says, “Vatokom Rivkah venaruteha…/And Rivkah and her maidens rose up...” Just as Meorat Hamachpelah rose in status and spirituality when it came under Avraham’s control, so did Rivkah become elevated upon leaving the impurity of the house of her father and going to the sacred environment of the home of Avraham and Yitzchak.

As descendants of Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, Yaakov, Rochel and Leah, we too have the ability to elevate our possessions and our environment with sanctity. May Hashem grant us the wisdom, desire and strength to do so.