Comfort in the Purchase of the ‘Cave of the Patriarchs’
After successfully passing the trial of the ‘Akeda’ (the binding of Isaac), Abraham our forefather returned home and had to cope with another trial. Sarah our foremother, Abraham’s loyal companion, who accompanied him on all his journeys, experiencing together the great revelations — and also the sufferings and disappointments — passed away. None of his contemporaries remained alive. He had left his family and friends behind in Ur Casdim and Haran in order to follow in the ways of God. Together with Sarah, they drew people closer to God by inspiring them with faith and morals, but they really didn’t have very close friends. He was called ‘Avraham Ha’Ivri’ (Abraham from the other side) – for all the world was on one side, and Abraham and Sarah on the other (Bereshith Rabba 41). And now, he remained grief-stricken and alone. He could have sunk into remorse and lost his senses, but instead, Abraham receives consolation in the deepest way a Jew can be comforted – in the building of the Land of Israel. He channels his personal grief towards the purchase of the first inheritance in the land.
The Canaanites, the children of Heth, show great respect for him; they are willing to allow him to bury Sarah wherever he wants. However, under no circumstances are they prepared to sell him a plot, lest he take hold of the land. Therefore, when Abraham approaches Ephron, Ephron raises the price to a ridiculously high figure, assuming that Abraham would prefer to bury Sarah without charge. However, Abraham immediately agreed to pay the set price. Ephron, embarrassed to change his mind and his lust of money overcoming him, sells the Cave of the Patriarchs and the surrounding field to Abraham our forefather.
There, in the Cave of Machpela, he buried the righteous Sarah, thus determining the Jewish nation’s possession of the Land of Israel for eternity.
Ever since, mourners are consoled by the traditional Jewish expression of condolence: “May God comfort you amongst the other mourner’s for Zion and Jerusalem”. For if a Jew merits contributing something to rectify the world, his life was not in vain, and he thereby joins the universal stream of life, which strives towards the building of Zion and Jerusalem, and bringing closer the Redemption. There is no comfort greater than this.
The Promise and its Actualization
The Land of Israel has belonged to the Jewish nation since the time when God promised it to Abraham and his progeny: “I will give this land to your offspring” (Genesis 12:7), “I will give it to you and to your offspring forever” (ibid, 13:15). However, “God desired to grant merit to Israel; that is why He gave them the Torah and the commandments in such abundance”. Therefore, the promise is actualized only through the fulfillment of the mitzvah of settling the Land, which obliges us to make an effort with all our might to conquer the Land and settle it.
Just as God gave us the Torah as a gift, but nevertheless, in order to learn and acquire the Torah we must study it diligently and with great effort, similarly, we must work diligently and strive to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel. The greater the mitzvah, the more effort is required to fulfill it. This is what Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: “God gave three precious gifts to Israel, and they are all acquired through trials and tribulations. They are: Torah, the Land of Israel, and the World to Come” (Talmud Berachot 5a).
“The actions of the father’s are a sign for the son’s”. From the actions of Abraham our forefather, who, even in difficult and complicated times, invested a fortune to take hold of the Land of Israel, we also must learn a lesson for our own times – not to spare money or efforts in order to purchase the Land of Israel and build more houses. How great are the actions of the settler’s living on the mountains of Judea and Samaria who merit fulfilling this mitzvah – causing the desolate mountains to blossom, and realizing the vision of the Redemption which the Prophet’s spoke of. If only they knew just how great this mitzvah really is, they would double their efforts to build more houses and increase the number of families and children.