Back to the Future by Rabbi Darren Blackstein


The quest for knowledge is endless. Whole areas of knowledge previously ignored are now topics of advanced study. Scientifically, we are trying to decipher the building blocks of life. Socially, we are probing areas of human conduct and raising questions of moral responsibility. Is it in one's genes, for example, to steal, and if so, can one then be held responsible if he steals?

Our Parsha deals with several topics of human concern, which in some form or other we all may have to deal with. These topics include the passing of a spouse, in this case, Sarah, Avraham's wife, the acquisition of a burial plot for a spouse, the search for a spouse for a child, in this case, Yitzchak, and the conclusion of one's own life, in this case, Avraham's own passing. All of these topics are of paramount concern to us and their significance does not diminish with the passing of time. This Parsha gives us some insight into them.

The passing of Sarah is a most significant and remarkable event. Rashi (כ"ג:ב' בראשית) quotes from the Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer that Sarah's death is juxtaposed to the story of the Akeidah because Sarah's soul departed when she heard that her son had nearly been sacrificed. The bearer of this news is identified, by some, as having been the Satan. Interestingly, the Sefer HaYashar reports that the Satan, disguised, first told her that Yitzchak had actually been sacrificed, and then returned to inform her that Yitzchak is alive. At this point, Sarah was so happy that her soul left her and she died. The former version associates her passing with the delivery of bad news, while the latter version associates it with good news. Which is correct? Perhaps that is not crucial. The crucial element may be the common thread between them, as hinted to us by the Zohar (לבראשית י"ח:ז') which tells us that upon being informed that Yitzchak would be born, Avraham went to select animals for a feast. One calf ran away and Avraham chased it, eventually catching it in the Me'aras HaMachpeilah. For some reason, we are being shown an intrinsic connection between Yitzchak and the final resting place of Avraham and Sarah, which is demonstrated again here with the actual death of Sarah. This could be in order to stress that their passing comes on the heels of Yitzchak's crowning achievement, the Akeidah. Speaking of "heels," Hashem tells Avraham following the Akeidah that the nations of the world will bless themselves through his offspring, "עקב," because he listened to His voice (שם כ"ב:י"ח). The word "עקב," translated as "because," also means "heel," and is explained by the Ramban in (דברים ז':י"ב) to mean "ultimate consequence." He explains that the Torah uses parts of the body, at times, to describe certain concepts. Here, the Torah tells us that the ultimate result of Avraham listening to Hashem's voice is that the nations will bless themselves through his seed. This is not meant as a reward, but as a natural outcome. The positive consequences of doing Mitzvos and listening to Hashem's voice should be seen as being as natural as the connection of the heel to the foot. It may be, therefore, that the ultimate goal of the Akeidah, its natural consequence, was to release Sarah from any further obligations in this world; her mission was fulfilled, and hence, her soul was free to go to Heaven. Keeping this in mind, it makes little difference if her passing was connected to a sad or happy news report. One who lives a life of obedience to Hashem will die content, knowing that one's values live on.

Subsequently, the Torah describes Avraham's purchase of Sarah's burial site in great detail (בראשית כ"ג:ג-ט"ז). The Torah seems to go out of its way to point out that Avraham would not take the site as a gift, but only as a purchase. There is nothing more natural than securing proof of one's ownership of something as precious as a burial place for one's spouse. Here too, the natural consequence of Avraham's righteous life is being able to own his wife's burial place. Aware that his own life is drawing to a close, Avraham then seeks to do his utmost to perpetuate his seed and find a heir to the throne of Sarah. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah (פרשה ס' סימן ט"ז) states that as long as Sarah lived, a cloud hovered over her tent; when she died, it left. When Rivkah came, however, it returned, which shows that the detailed search for Yitzchak's spouse resulted in someone who was as deserving of a symbol of the Shechinah, Hashem's Divine Presence, as Sarah was. This too was a natural consequence of Avraham's having always fulfilled Hashem's will.

Finally, with these milestones achieved, Avraham has come full circle, and the Torah states that he died at a good old age (שם כ"ח:ח'). This is exactly as Hashem had promised earlier (שם ט"ו:ט"ו). It is interesting that Avraham's desire to seek a wife for Yitzchak comes after the passing of his own wife. This is similar to the Posuk where Hashem talks of creating an עזר כנגדו, a help-mate for Adam HaRishon immediately after the notion of death is mentioned in association with eating from the forbidden fruits of the Eitz HaDaas (שם ב':י"ז-י"ח). Avraham too focuses first on life after suffering a loss. HaRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik once noted that according to the Torah, when Avraham came to bury Sarah, he eulogized and then cried for her (בראשית כ"ג:י"ב). Usually, the crying comes before a public eulogy. Avraham, however, took care first of his public obligation and then of his private sorrow.

The actions of our Avos (and Imahos) inherently contained obedience to the Torah's will and in a way are actually a part of Torah in and of themselves! Their lives guide us as to how to deal effectively with life's problems and how to guarantee positive solutions. If we want insight as to how to conduct ourselves in the future, we simply need to look back to our ancestors, and their actions should suffice as a סימן לבנים, a sign for us, their children.


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