Parshas Chayei Sarah
The Firsts Lady
This week’s parashah begins with the death and burial of the Matriarch Sarah. Midrash Rabbah applies to Sarah the verse (Tehilim 37:18), “Hashem knows the days of the temimim / wholesome ones, their inheritance will be forever.” Says the midrash: “Just as they are wholesome, so their years are wholesome.”
R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) asks: What is the connection between the first part of the verse, “Hashem knows the days of the wholesome,” and the second part of the verse, “their inheritance will be forever”? He explains:
The Torah says (Devarim 33:28), “Yisrael shall dwell securely, solitary, in the likeness of Yaakov, in a land of grain and wine.” The Jewish People can be secure only when they stand apart from the nations of the world. Sarah was the first person to express this, saying (in last week’s parashah–Bereishit 21:10), “For the son of the slave-woman shall not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak.”
Sarah also represents another “first.” Her burial place was the first Jewish-owned land in Eretz Yisrael, as described in this week’s parashah. Says R’ Kook: These two “firsts” are alluded to in the two parts of the verse, “Hashem knows the days of the temimim, their inheritance will be forever.” The first part refers to Sarah’s understanding that Jewish wholesomeness is attained through Jewish solitariness. The second part refers to Sarah’s role in securing the inheritance of the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael. (Shemuot Ha’raayah)
- “Va’yihyu chayei Sarah” / “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years . . .” (23:1)
R’ Yehoshua ibn Shuiv z”l (Spain; early 14th century) observes: Sarah lived for 37 years after Yitzchak was born, and these were no doubt the happiest years of her life. This is alluded to in the verse: “Va’yihyu chayei Sarah,” which could be translated: “Sarah’s lifetime was ‘va’yihyu’.” The gematria of the word “Va’yihyu” (vav-yud-heh-yud-vav) is 37, alluding to the prime years of Sarah’s life. (Derashot R’ Yehoshua ibn Shuiv)
- “Grant me an estate for a burial site with you, that I may bury my dead from before me.” (23:4)
If, at first, Avraham asked that a burial site be granted to him, why did he later insist on paying for it? R’ Yochanan Luria z”l (15th century) explains:
Just as Avraham was pleased to perform kindness for others, he believed that it would please others if he received kindness from them. Of course, Avraham’s request from them was minimal; he asked only a burial place for Sarah–“that I may bury my dead (singular) from before me.”
They answered, “In the choicest of our burial places (plural) bury your dead.” They offered him a family plot for his descendants. But, they immediately followed this by saying, “Any one (singular) of us will not withhold his burial place (singular) from you.” Seeing the size of their offer decline, Avraham realized that their kindness was not sincere, so he offered to pay for Sarah’s burial place.
In contrast, R’ Luria continues, one who is sincerely kind always delivers more than he offered. In last week’s parashah, Avraham offered the angels bread, but he brought them also cheese and meat. Similarly, in this week’s parashah, Eliezer asks Rivka for a drink of water and she promptly offers to water his camels as well.
R’ Luria adds: This is why Avraham made very clear (in verse 13) that he was buying the entire field from Efron, not just the burial cave. Halachah states that a seller is presumed to be generous, i.e., if a person sells a plot of land which is surrounded on all sides by the seller’s field, we presume that the seller intends to give the buyer a right-of-way to his plot. But, that is only a presumption. Where, as here, the seller has demonstrated his stinginess, the presumption might not apply. (Meshivat Nafesh)
- In past weeks, we presented an historical overview of the controversy surrounding the “hetter mechirah,” the sale of the Land of Israel to a non-Jew for the shemittah year. This week, we begin to discuss the halachic issues involved.
One of the foundations on which the hetter mechirah rests is the widely held view that, so long as the majority of the Jewish People lives outside of Eretz Yisrael, the mitzvah d’oraita / Torah-ordained commandment of shemittah does not apply. Rather, in our era, shemittah is a mitzvah “only” mi’d’rabbanan / by rabbinic enactment. Those who supported the hetter mechirah argued that the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael takes precedence over prohibitions that are “only” d’rabbanan. Since the “yishuv” / settlement in Eretz Yisrael would not have been viable if its members had been required to observe the shemittah, it was better to render the rabbinical enactment of shemittah not applicable by selling the Land to a gentile.
R’ Yaakov David Willowsky z”l (1845-1913; rabbi in Poland, Chicago and Tzefat; known as “Ridvaz”) was one of the primary opponents of the hetter mechirah when the issue was debated prior to the shemittah of 5670/1909-10. He asserted that it made no sense to sell Eretz Yisrael in order to preserve the yishuv because, once the Land was sold to a non-Jew and the agricultural mitzvot no longer applied, the kedushah/holiness of the Land was nullified and there remained no reason to preserve the yishuv.
[Seemingly one could answer that the hetter mechirah was not meant to make settlement viable only during the shemittah year. Rather, selling the Land for one year would make it possible to build Eretz Yisrael in the longer term so that many agricultural mitzvot will be performed.]
R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (then rabbi of Yafo and the surrounding agricultural settlements) disagreed strongly with the premise of Ridvaz’s opinion. R’ Kook wrote to Ridvaz: While Eretz Yisrael has added kedushah because of the agricultural mitzvot that apply there and nowhere else, Eretz Yisrael also has inherent kedushah that is independent of the mitzvot. Indeed, our Sages say that the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael is equivalent to all other commandments combined. This would be illogical if the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael existed only to facilitate the performance of other mitzvot. Because of that independent kedushah, there is a mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael even if the agricultural mitzvot are not being observed or do not apply. Indeed, R’ Kook argued, would anyone suggest that during the nearly 2,000 years when there were no Jewish farmers in Eretz Yisrael, that Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Sarah, Rivka and Leah, all of whom are buried in the Me’arat Ha’machpelah in Chevron, were not buried in the Holy Land? Of course not! Rather, Eretz Yisrael is the Holy Land no matter what! (Mishpat Kohen No. 63)
R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l (1903-1993) writes, to the contrary, that the eternal sanctity of the Land is a reason why the sale of the Land to a non-Jew would not be effective to exempt the Land from the mitzvah of shemittah. Separate from a farmer’s personal property rights, there exists another form of “ownership” of the land resulting from the eternal bond between the Jewish People as a whole and Eretz Yisrael. That ownership is not, and cannot be, severed by the sale of the Land. Therefore, it cannot terminate the halachic requirements that apply on the Land. (Shiurei Harav Al Masechet Challah p.136)
R’ Hershel Shachter shlita (rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan) elaborates in the name of R’ Soloveitchik’s father, R’ Moshe Soloveitchik (1879-1941); During the first Temple period, Eretz Yisrael was divided among the Tribes. However, there is no record of the land being similarly divided when the Jewish People returned from the exile in Bavel (Babylon). Therefore, today, Eretz Yisrael belongs to the entire Jewish People. But, there are only laws in the Torah about how individuals sell land; there are no provisions for the entire Jewish People to sell its Land. Therefore, doing so is a legal impossibility. (Nefesh Ha’Rav p.82)
R’ Avraham Bornstein z”l (1838-1910; rabbi, rosh yeshiva and chassidic rebbe in Sochatchov, Poland) supports the position that the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael is independent of the agricultural mitzvot. Midrash Rabbah states that Yaakov was afraid of Esav because the latter had lived in Eretz Yisrael while Yaakov had lived abroad with Lavan. Surely Esav was not performing the agricultural mitzvot, yet Yaakov feared the merit that Esav had amassed by living in Eretz Yisrael. This indicates that living in Eretz Yisrael has value in its own right. (She’eilot U’teshuvot Avnei Nezer: Y.D. 454:32)
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