Parashat Chayei Sarah

“אמר לפניו רבש"ע שטתי בכל העולם ולא מצאתי כעבדך אברהם שאמרת לו קום התהלך בארץ לארכה ולרחבה כי לך אתננה ובשעה שבקש לקבור שרה לא מצא מקום לקוברה, ולא הרהר אחר מדותיך

[The Satan] said before him “Master of the universe, I have traversed the entire world, and I have not found anything like your servant Abraham, for you told him ‘Arise. Travel the land along its length and width, for I will give it to you.’ But in the hour that he tried to bury Sarah, he found no place to bury her, and he did not question your ways.”

This praise of Abraham seems difficult to understand. It is true that Abraham ended up having to purchase Sarah’s grave, but it seems hard to understand why it why so impressive that he did not question the Creator over this. The cave where he buried Sarah did not come cheap, but he had the funds to cover the expense. Furthermore, all the children of Heth, with whom he negotiated for the plot, treated him with utmost respect and called him a prince of G-d. If that is so, why was it so amazing that Abraham never questioned G-d’s ways?

I would like to suggest that it wasn’t so much a matter of whether he was able to find a plot, but that experience of having to negotiate for one could have hammered home something Abraham still lacked. After all the time he had spent in Canaan, he still had not found a place to call a permanent home. The first land he ever managed to purchase in perpetuity was a burial plot. For everything else, and even for this, he was still dependent on the grace of others. He was treated with dignity and honored as a guest, but he was never accepted as an inhabitant. 

Abraham might have easily become discouraged and wondered what would happen with his blessings.  How were his children supposed to inherit the land, when he was barely able to buy a funeral plot? He was no closer to realizing this vision at the end of his life than when he had set out for Canaan. For all his successes in life, what had he accomplished that was lasting? He could have given into despair or demanded that G-d reveal His purpose. Instead, he was able to pay the money, bury his wife, and continue to the next test in life. It was his unwavering emunah that so impressed the Satan. 

Last week, we experienced a horrible tragedy that might have also led us to question our place in life and in this land. I, like many of you, am having difficulty processing the terrible loss of lives and what it might mean for our future. It breaks my heart to think of the families who are burying their loved ones in a land whose people are often less welcoming to us than the Hittites were of Abraham, filling the soil with Jewish blood violently shed. Dreams and visions seem distant. But we can take some strength from our Forefather. We do not always understand what progress we have made in life, but in each moment we can always strive to further the mission G-d has laid out for us. If we continue to love one another and grow as a Jewish community, we will see the realization of Abraham’s blessings.