by Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman
ONLY THROUGH SUFFERING
The Torah devotes an entire chapter – twenty verses – to Avraham’s acquisition of Me’arat HaMachpeilah. Why
is this so important for us, his descendants, to know? Couldn’t the Torah have simply said, “Avraham buried Sarah
A few weeks ago (Parashat BeReishit, “Self Convincing”), I discussed a Midrash that provides one answer to
There are three places about which the nations of the world cannot taunt the Jews and say, “You stole them.”
[They are]: Me’arat HaMachpeilah, the [site] of the Beit HaMikdash, and the burial place of Yosef.
(BeReishit Rabbah 79:7)
That is, the Torah goes into great detail about the purchase of Me’arat HaMachpeilah so that we can feel confident
about retaking possession of it.
The Ibn Ezra gives a different answer: “This section is mentioned to inform us of the supremacy of Eretz
Yisrael over all other lands, both for the living and the dead.” I.e., the fact that Avraham spent so much money
and effort just to acquire a burial plot shows how special Eretz Yisrael was to him (and should be to us, his
God willing, I will elaborate upon the theme of death and burial in Eretz Yisrael later on. For the time being,
however, I would like to concentrate on the lessons to be learned from Avraham’s purchase of Me’arat
HaMachpeilah. It is interesting to note that this is the first plot of land a Jew ever bought in Eretz Yisrael. By the
time this episode occurs, Avraham has been living in the Land for 62 years! Yet, we do not find that he bought any
land from the indigenous nations until this parashah. Why is this so? Would it not have been more appropriate to
buy a plot for the living before buying a plot for the dead?
Of course, the simple answer is that Avraham had no need to buy any land before this episode. God assured him
that the entire Land would be his, so why should he buy what is rightfully his? One could ask, then, why did he
have to buy Me’arat HaMachpeilah? Wasn’t it rightfully his? Some commentators to Pirkei Avot (5:3) explain that
this was one of Avraham’s ten tests. God had just promised him the entire Land, and now he is forced to spend an
exorbitant amount of money to purchase a burial plot for Sarah. God wanted to see if Avraham would doubt Him;
and he did not.
In a book entitled Doresh BeTzion (published by the Mizrachi HaPoel HaMizrachi World Organization) I saw a
more instructive answer. God wanted to teach Avraham – and his descendants – that Eretz Yisrael is acquired only
through suffering (as Chazal teach us in Berachot 5a). Before acquiring a plot for the living, one must first acquire
a burial plot. In order to truly be able to strike roots and settle down in Eretz Yisrael, one has to first sacrifice for
the Land. It is an integral part of the absorption process.
But why must it be this way? Why can’t it be easy to live in God’s Chosen Land? The answer goes back to the
Ibn Ezra’s statement mentioned above. Since Eretz Yisrael is superior to all other lands, both spiritually and
materially, it “costs” more. Wouldn’t you be willing to pay more for a nicer house (assuming you had the money)?
If Eretz Yisrael was the easiest, safest, and most profitable place to live, all of world Jewry would be here. “So,
what’s wrong with that?” you may ask. The answer is, God wants us to live here in order to get closer to Him, in
order to live a more meaningful life, and because it is a mitzvah; not in order to buy two cars, a villa, and eat kosher
McDonalds. He wants to be able to give a greater reward to those who forgo their physical pleasures in order to
live here, as Chazal teach, “The reward is proportionate to the pain” (Avot 5:26).
In my opinion, the failure to recognize this fundamental truth about aliyah is the main reason why so many Jews
do not live here. If these Jews would realize that it simply has to be this way, that in the long run it is for their
benefit, and that the hardships eventually subside, paving the way to true happiness and fulfillment, they would be
here in no time. Let us not forget that immediately after Avraham buries Sarah, the Torah states, …The Lord blessed
Avraham with everything (24:1).
THE GOD OF THE LAND
Avraham said to his servant… “I will make you swear by the Lord, God of heaven and God of earth, that you
will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. Rather, you shall
go to my land and to my birthplace and take a wife for my son, for Yitzchak.” The servant said to him,
“Perhaps the woman will not want to follow me to this Land; shall I bring your son back to the land from
which you left?” Avraham said to him: “Beware lest you bring my son back there. The Lord, God of heaven,
Who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and Who spoke regarding me and Who
swore to me saying, ‘To your seed will I give this Land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a
wife for my son from there” (24:3-7).
Many commentators ask why Avraham insisted on taking a wife for Yitzchak from his own birthplace and not
from the Land of Canaan. After all, the inhabitants of both places were idolaters. The Ran and others answer that
although Avraham’s relatives worshipped idols, they possessed basically good character traits. The Canaanites, on
the other hand, were corrupt, immoral, and cruel. Idolatry is a malady of the mind, which is not passed down from
parent to child and is relatively easy to cure. Evil traits, however, are passed down from generation to generation
and are very difficult to uproot.
There are other answers to this question (see, for example, the Kli Yakar), but no matter how we answer it, one
thing is very clear: the Canaanites were extremely evil and corrupt. If so, why did God command Avraham, in
Parashat Lech Lecha, to leave his birthplace and go to this Land? And why did Avraham warn Eliezer not to take
Yitzchak out of the Land?
The answer is that Eretz Yisrael’s holiness and special qualities are independent of any outside factor. The Land
is inherently unique and has been that way ever since the beginning of time. Yes, even though the Land of Canaan
was inhabited by immoral idolaters, God told Avraham to go there, because He knew that this was the only place
where he and his descendants could truly flourish.
The Ramban explains what makes Eretz Yisrael so special: The first time Avraham mentioned HaShem’s name
to Eliezer, he described Him as “God of heaven and God of earth” (v. 3). Four verses later, however, he referred to
Him as merely “the God of heaven” (v. 7). Why this discrepancy? (See Rashi’s answer.) The Ramban explains
that in verse 3 Avraham was speaking about the present, when he already dwelled in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, he
called HaShem, “God of heaven and God of earth [lit, ‘the land’],” because HaShem is known as the God of the
Land of Israel (see II Melachim 17:26). In verse 7, however, Avraham was referring to when he still lived in
Charan: The Lord, God of heaven, Who took me from my father’s house… Outside the Land of Israel, HaShem is
considered only the God of heaven, because He chooses not to let His Shechinah rest in foreign lands. This, adds
the Ramban, is the meaning of Chazal’s statement “He who dwells in Chutz LaAretz is like one who has no God”
(Ketuvot 110b). Thus, Eretz Yisrael is eternally holy and special because it is the Palace of the King; and no outside
force can change that fact.
One question remains, however. The halachah states that one is permitted to leave Eretz Yisrael – temporarily –
in order to find a mate (see Rambam, Melachim 5:9). Why, then, was Avraham so opposed to the idea of letting
Yitzchak leave the Land to find a wife? Most commentators explain that Yitzchak was an exception to the rule,
since he was considered an olah temimah – a “perfect burnt-offering.” The Rashbam provides us with a more
The Lord, God of Heaven, Who brought me [Avraham] here and gave this Land to my descendants: I know
that He does not want my descendants to distance themselves from here. For if so, why did God bring
me here? Therefore, I know that He will send His angel to grant you [Eliezer] success on your journey, in
order to fulfill His promise to me.
Avraham used simple logic. It can’t be – he reasoned – that God wants me to send my son outside the Land, for if
so why did He bring me here in the first place? If He promised me the Land and actually brought me here, He
cannot possibly want my children to leave it.
I believe that this Rashbam teaches us an important lesson. Throughout the long and bitter exile, it was
extremely difficult for Jews to come and live in Eretz Yisrael. Recently, however, HaShem fulfilled His promise to
Avraham and returned the Land to the Jewish people, allowing them to dwell there in relative comfort. Is this not a
clear sign that God does not want us, Avraham’s descendants, to distance ourselves from the Land? For if so, why
did He bring us here to begin with?
Afterwards, Avraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpeilah, facing Mamre, which is
Chevron (Hebron), in the Land of Canaan (23:19)
[The Torah] repeats the [location] of the field, the place, and the Land, because it mentioned the Children of
Heit and Efron the Hittite throughout this section. Therefore, it affirms at the end that this is the Land of
Canaan, which is Eretz Yisrael. It also says at the beginning of the section, In Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron,
in the Land of Canaan (v. 2). The reason for all this is to explain that this righteous woman died and was
buried in Eretz Yisrael, for the Hittites are from the Canaanite family… This whole section was written to tell
us of God’s kindness to Avraham, who became a “Prince of God” in a land to which he came to sojourn… and
his wife died and was buried in the inheritance of HaShem. Furthermore, [the Torah] wanted to inform us
where our Patriarchs are buried, seeing that we are obligated to honor the burial place of our holy
Which is chevron, in the land of canaan: All of this is superfluous, for we already know it from the beginning
of the section! It comes to teach that just as that cave, called Me’arat HaMachpeilah, is special and has
unique qualities as a burial spot, and whoever is buried there is on a very high level… so too, all of Chevron
has some prominence and uniqueness for burial, even though it is not the same as the cave itself. Then
Scriptures explains further, In the land of canaan, to teach that the entire Land has special qualities related to
burial, even though it cannot be compared to the Cave. (Ha’amek Davar by the Netziv)
The servant brought out ornaments of silver and gold, and garments, and gave them to Rivka; and he gave
delicacies to her brother and to her mother (24:53).
Delacacies… He brought with him various fruits of Eretz Yisrael. (Rashi)
Yitzchak went out to meditate (לשוח (in the field towards evening, and he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold,
camels were coming (24:63).
The Sages of the Talmud (Berachot 26b) understand the word לשוח to be an expression of prayer, and they derive
from here that Yitzchak instituted the Minchah (afternoon) service. This raises a difficulty, however, for the Talmud
states elsewhere that it is improper to pray in an open field (ibid. 34b). Tosafot answers this contradiction as
One could say that [our verse] is referring to Mount Moriah, as it says in Pesachim (88b), “Not like
Yitzchak who called it [Mt. Moriah] a field…”
The Netziv explains: “This does not mean that Yitzchak stood at that time on Mt. Moriah. Rather, he [stood] under
a tree or the like, while his eyes and heart were directed towards Mt. Moriah, which is called a field, and he
prayed for sustenance, included in which is finding a wife… (Ha’amek Davar)