Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron
Cave of the Patriarchs, HebronArutz Sheva

We read in our Parasha (23:1-20), of the sad tidings that greeted Avraham Avinu, on his return from the akeida to Hebron: his beloved soul-mate, Sarah Imenu had died’.

The Torah then states: ‘He came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her;(and) Avraham rose up from the presence of his dead, and spoke to the children of Heth, saying:’I am an alien and a resident among you; grant me an estate for a burial site with you, that I may bury my dead before me’.

The Torah then describes at length the events which culminated with Avraham Avinu purchasing from Ephron-at a very full price-the field with the cave which was in it, the sacred Mea’rat HaMachpela’, for a burial site.

Most commentators consider the akeidah- ‘the binding of Yitzchak’- to be the last of the ten trials with which Avraham Avinu was tested, all of which he successfully withstood (Avot 5:4).

Rabenu Yonah, however, in his commentary on Avot, lists the Akeida as the ninth test, and the burial of Sarah, as the tenth, and concluding, test, saying:’The tenth (trial) was the burial of Sarah, as Hashem said to Avraham(Lech Lecha 13:17):’Rise, walk this land, in its length and in its breadth, for I will give it to you’, yet when his wife Sarah died, he could not find a place to bury her, until he purchased one, ולא הרהר: yet he did not doubt Hashem’.

Whilst not stating that the burial of Sarah was one of the ten trials of Avraham, the Gemara (Baba Batra 15:) brings the ‘praise’ of the Satan before Hashem, for this act of Avraham, that there was no-one ‘throughout the entire world, as faithful to you as Avraham’.

The Ramban cites this Gemara, and comments:’And this too was one of the trials of Avraham, that he sought a place to bury Sarah, and did not find one until he purchased it’.

The Chezkuni- another of the Rishonim- the early commentators- also listed the burial of Sarah, as one of the ten trials, commenting:’It is not the way of scripture to relate the death of a woman, even if she was righteous, except where it concerned a matter worthy of note, as with Sarah, where Avraham expended substantial moneys for her burial, ולא הרהר: and did find fault with Hashem’s ways, and this was one of the ten trials’.

Rav Avi Kalmantinovsky brings this commentary of the Chezkoni, that the tenth and final trial of Avraham, was not the akeida, but the burial of Sarah.

He comments:’The psukim in our Parasha present a different picture: The children of Chet are willing to permit Avraham to bury Sarah wherever he wished, and Ephron is ready to give the field to Avraham without payment. True, Avraham insists on paying Ephron, but he could have achieved what he wanted immediately, and without payment.’

‘What, then, was the trial here?

‘A further question: Ephron was prepared to give the cave to Avraham without payment, from the outset, yet he accepted immediately the great sum that he had alluded to; yet, had Avraham been ready to do so initially, he would have received the plot without payment. Why did Ephron now allude to such a large sum, and accept it immediately when offered by Avraham?

‘The answer is found by a careful reading of the psukim: Avraham requested a burial holding from the children of Chet, which would be legally his; they, in reply, offer him the right to bury his dead, Sarah, in a grave of theirs, but refuse to give him a קנין: a legal right in their land.

‘This disagreement continues in their negotiations, and, similarly, Ephron’s initial offer is to permit the burial in the cave, with a right of access through his field- but Avraham is adamant that he purchase the field.

‘Ephron continues to make this offer, limited to the burial of Sarah, hinting that the field is worth the astronomical sum of 400 silver shekalim, should Avraham, despite this, wish to purchase the land. ‘Avraham understands the allusion, and, without hesitation, weighs out this sum.

‘Therefore ’, proffers the Rav, ‘the argument is not over money, but over the right to own land; Ephron is willing to give Avraham the right to bury Sarah, without any payment. However, when the issue becomes one of legal rights and ownership of land, Ephron’s goodwill evaporates, and Ephron is revealed in his true colors.

‘We can now understand what the trial was:Avraham had been promised that the whole of the land would be his, yet his initial efforts to acquire a holding in it, as a burial plot, were firmly rejected; and he only succeeds by paying of an enormous sum of money.

‘And, not only does Avraham not question Hashem’s ways, he prostrated himself before Hashem, to thank Him for enabling him to complete the purchase, and sees it as a fulfillment of Hashem’s gift of the land’.

Rav Matityahu Solomon opens his commentary, by querying how, to our simple minds, one could even compare the burial of Sarah to the akeida, which Satan, in the Gemara we brought, was seen as THE greatest proof of Avraham’s unwavering faithfulness to Hashem.

‘All said and done, what trial was involved? Avraham did, in the end, acquire a burial plot, and, though this was after having to outlay a large sum of money, this was not so different than other difficulties in the conquest of the land, which required many battles against the inhabitants, which was clearly accepted as being fulfillment of Hashem’s promise.

‘To answer this, we need to first ask, and answer, another question: What was the doubt that Avraham might have harbored? Surely he did not doubt that Hashem would fulfill His promise that the land would be his. In the interim, the land was still occupied by the Canaanites.

‘Equally evident, Avraham saw in the successful conclusion of the purchase from Ephron, a fulfillment of Hashem’s promise, as shown by his prostration before Hashem, as an expression of thanks.

‘Therefore, we must say, that the whole trial was for the short period of time, from when he learned of the death of Sarah, until the acquisition of the burial plot; and the ‘doubt’ was not that Hashem would fulfill His promise, but in ‘the ways of Hashem’; it could have crossed his mind, that as all his days, he spread the word of Hashem’s goodness, the gift of the land would also be ‘with a good eye’; and where was this ‘goodness’, when, deep in his mourning for his beloved Sarah, he is compelled to find a place to bury her, and this in the land which had been promised to him?

‘No such thought, or doubt, entered Avraham Avinu’s mind; he saw in all that transpired here Hashem’s kindness, as proven by his prostration before Hashem, when the matter was concluded.

‘We can now also suggest an answer as to why this trial was ‘greater’ than even the test of the akeida.

‘In the test of the akeida, Hashem prepared Avraham, by ‘asking’ him to please undergo the trial, for His sake.

‘In the trial of seeking a burial plot, he was given no time to prepare, he had no inkling of the death of his soul-mate, and was compelled, whilst deep in the throes of pain and anguish, to engage in the burial of ‘his dead, who was before him’.

‘Yet, as the Parasha makes clear, so great was his faith in Hashem, and in His goodness, Avraham dealt with great equanimity, and civility, with the owners of the land- and this is made clear by the words of the Gemara, that Avraham Avinu’s faithfulness was seen ‘when Avraham sought to bury Sarah, and could not find a place for her, yet did not doubt Hashem’’.

This was Avraham Avinu, our Father, ‘the believer, the father of believers’!

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.