Parshas Chayei Sarah
Facing God's Challenges
Ephron was sitting among the sons of Chet, and answered Avraham in the
presence of the sons of Chet, so that all those who came to the gates of his
city could hear. (Bereishis 23:10)
As of this writing, the President of Iran is in Lebanon, surveying the
Israel-Lebanese border, meeting with the leader of Hizbollah, and planning
the destruction of Israel. I suppose to Iranians he looks normal, but to me,
a Westerner, having come from Canada, and not just as a Jew, he looks and
sounds dastardly. Really dastardly.
I wonder what his IQ is. I could make fun of him out of my great disdain for
the man, and assume that he is as unintelligent as he sounds and looks, but
there is no benefit in doing so if he is actually smart. I would only be
fooling and endangering myself, because I would be assuming that he is far
less dangerous to the Jewish people and the world than he might actually be.
You don’t become the President of Iran, no matter what you think of the
country, by being a complete imbecile, or even a partial one.
People made that mistake about Hitler, y”s, and paid dearly for it. At
first, people, his own people, thought he was a “nut job,” and wrote him
off. He showed them by becoming Chancellor of Germany, one of the more
intelligent countries of that time, in nine short years since being released
from prison for having instrumented a failed coup.
The world wrote him off as well for the next six years, totally
underestimating the threat he posed to the world at that time. They paid
with World War II and an estimated 78 million deaths, and the Holocaust,
with six million Jews being brutally and meticulously murdered. One can
still see then British Prime Minister Chamberlain, after meeting with Heir
Hitler, ysv”z, face-to-face in Munich in 1938, declaring that the German
leader has no plans to conquer Europe and that there would be peace instead!
(Have the British always been such a poor judge of character?)
Today, the Israelis aren’t taking any chances. They are on high alert, and
if I’m not mistaken, reserves have been called up this morning. Even the
U.N. is not taking this visit sitting down, also tensing up in the event
that a war breaks out, especially since one Israeli Knesset member has
“suggested” that if the IDF gets the Iranian President in their crosshairs,
they should kill him.
Avraham Avinu, in this week’s parshah, apparently took the same approach. It
is very unlikely that Avraham Avinu thought highly of Ephron, instead seeing
right through him. Indeed, in the Talmud, he is the prime example of how
evil people say much but do little good (Bava Metzia 87a). Avraham Avinu
knew exactly who he was dealing with, and dealt with him accordingly.
And, how he dealt with Ephron is extremely important, and very instructive,
especially when understanding the nature of anti-Semitism and the
anti-Semite. In other words, once again, what seems to be a side show is
really a main event, and it must be understood for what it is. For our own good.
After all, Avraham Avinu had just returned from the Akeidah, which was
responsible for his beloved wife’s death. The Akeidah itself had been a
harrowing enough experience, intellectually and emotionally, to make Avraham
Avinu worthy of at least a day off. Instead, he came home to find that his
wife had passed away, and rather than unwind, he had to get immediately
involved in preparations for Sarah’s burial.
Unlike today, that wasn’t a simple case of calling up the local Jewish
funeral home and working out the details. Instead, Avraham Avinu had to
purchase the burial place of his wife — even though he knew the land would
be his in the future as an inheritance from God — and from a local
con-artist. Did this man get no breaks?
Sure it was a test. But, according to the Midrash, after the Akeidah had
ended, God agreed to Avraham Avinu’s request to be tested no more. And
besides, what kind of God tests a man by taking his wife through the very
test that he passes (that had to sour the outcome), and then testing him
again by trying his patience even more by making the burial process a
However, more than a test, it was a lesson, an exposure. This was not a
front row seat to the Theatre of the Absurd, but a front row seat to
history, which unfortunately, is often the same thing (that the Iranian
President spoke in NY to the U.N. General Assembly, coming and going as he
pleased, is proof of that). Because, at the end of the day, Ephron worked
for God, just as Haman did in his time, Hitler, y”s, in his, and
Achmana-what’s-his-name does in our time.
Knowing this is what gave Avraham Avinu the patience and the genius to deal
with Ephron, and we, today, and quickly, need to know what he saw and
understood, for the tour of the Lebanese border of the Iranian President is
more a lesson from God than it is one from Iran, Hizbollah, or the world in
general. Just as God spoke to Avraham through Ephron, He is speaking to us
through the evil leaders of today.
The message, obviously, is not necessarily the same in every generation.
Indeed, more than likely it is different, so understanding it has much to do
with the theme of a particular period of history. Clearly the message being
transmitted through the leaders of the world to the Jewish people at any
given moment in history is part-and-parcel of what God is making happen at
that particular time.
In the case of Avraham, it was the conclusion of his 10 tests, the
concretization of everything he had been trying to instill in the nation
that was evolving from him. Ma’aseh Avos siman l’banim—the actions of the
Fathers are signs for the children—means that they were the trailblazers for
us; we survive because of what they survived, and what Avraham Avinu
survived is extremely relevant to us at this stage of history.
Choosing God, for Avraham Avinu, meant almost dying in a fiery furnace.
Choosing to follow God meant going to a strange land, and then being forced
to go to Egypt to survive famine, only to almost lose his wife to Pharaoh.
And, though he got rich along the way, he almost lost it all in a battle for
the land, after which he was asked to bring his long-awaited and cherished
son up as a sacrifice.
He got to keep his son, but at the cost of his wife, and he only was able to
bury her where he wanted by paying for land that was destined to be his one
day. In-between, he lost his nephew to an immoral place, only having to
rescue him later on at great risk to his life and loyal followers. What a
life. What a journey.
I know of many families who have made similar journeys with similar
difficulties. They have left behind success in the Diaspora for struggle in
Eretz Yisroel. Not all such families, but enough that it is difficult not to
take notice of them, and turn to God and say, “What’s going on? They have
made a supreme sacrifice to be closer to You, to expedite the Final
Redemption, to show others that it is a better place to be a Jew! Why so
hard on them?”
Indeed, we can say the same thing about the entire Jewish people today.
First we came from the poverty and persecution of Europe to make a barren
land into a suitable place to live, and did at great speed and against the
odds. Then we survived a Holocaust and rebuilt ourselves in different places
around the world, including in Eretz Yisroel, only to be asked to surrender
the fruits of our successes to people who did nothing but murder us to get
them. And, we’re called all kinds of nasty things when we don’t.
To make matters worse, 60 Minutes runs a show about archeological digs
around Jerusalem in search of the City of David and King David himself,
forcing one believer to call him an “enigma.” However, what comes out is
that little exists to prove his existence and reign, and in fact, there is
no concrete evidence for any of the kings of the Jewish people, including
Shlomo HaMelech. With the help of a Jewish archeologist, the interviewer
emphasizes this point.
Just what the world needs to hear at this time of history, as the battle for
East Jerusalem intensifies, with the world supporting the Arabs against the
Hey God, a little help please!
One of the most instructive teachings in the history of mankind is this one:
This world is like a corridor before the World-to-Come. Rectify yourself
in the corridor in order to be able to enter the Banquet Hall. (Pirkei Avos
This is the fundamental disagreement of all of history, going back to the
beginning and continuing on until this very day. The vast majority of
mankind is barely aware of this at all, and even many of those who take it
seriously do so only intellectually, and not emotionally. Let’s face it: we
want it good and smooth in this world, and rarely give much thought to what
we might be losing out in the World-to-Come to make it so.
How many people give much thought to being righteous? And, why should they,
when so many people around them are eating cake? Billions of them!
But, consider this as well. How many of the people of history are actually
going to the World-to-Come, and if they are, how many will get a significant
portion of it? So, so few, which may be the very reason why they are
succeeding in this world: unable to make it to the World-to-Come, pay-off
time is now and temporal.
Anyone who thinks that it is coincidental that the most righteous people of
Jewish history have lacked and suffered is tragically mistaken. It is not
they could not pray and change their situation; they could. It is not that
they couldn’t use their merits to impose upon Heaven for a better material
lot in life; they wouldn’t. They have always been just passing through,
focused only on where they were heading, not so much on where they were
Spiritual tests are not just to see how good we are. They are also God’s way
of reminding us that we live in a world that does not work out physically,
in order that it can work out spiritually. And, though it may not be easy to
put up with them, especially when they last for extended periods of time, we
are only expected to do our best given our situation and abilities, which,
sometimes, just means coping, and doing one’s best to not turn against God
when we are not one of those who get to walk around with smiles on their
faces as if they are already living in the World-to-Come.
This is what Avraham Avinu learned from his life; this is what he was all
about. And, it gave him the ability to deal with the insane and the inane,
because being a Ben Olam HaBah, everything was from God, and a stepping
stone to a higher level in Eternal Life.
Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.