Home > Divrei Torah > Parashat Hayei Sarah 5784

Parashat Hayei Sarah 5784

November 6, 2023
by Rabbi Gerry L. Ginsburg

A D’var Torah for Parashat Hayei Sarah

By Rabbi Gerry L. Ginsburg (AJR ’19)

The portion Hayei Sarah, the life of Sarah, reflects more on her death, and how her husband, Abraham, buys land in Canaan to bury her. In fact, Abraham’s purchase of the land, at an exorbitant price, is the first purchase of land in Canaan recorded in the Torah.

This is a significant turning point in the history of the Abrahamic religion. There was no mention in the Torah, for instance, of the burial of Adam and Eve or Noah. And, because this was such a milestone event, our Torah portion takes 18 verses to describe the request for and the sale of the Cave of the Makhpeilah. Abraham needed to own the property where his beloved wife would be buried.

Originally the cave was meant to hold that one person, Sarah. Very soon after she was buried there, Abraham died and was buried there, too. Later their son, Isaac, and his wife, Rebecca, were also entombed there with his son, Jacob and wife, Leah. Jacob’s wife Rachel was buried near the road to Bethlehem.

The fact that the three generations were buried together in the cave reveals some early Biblical era beliefs of death.

Sarah lived for 127 years but there is no explanation for why she died. Bereisheet Rabbah, a volume of aggadic stories on Genesis most likely written around 300-500 C.E., says that she died of grief over the binding of Isaac.

Abraham now was forced to find land to bury his wife. He found a field with trees and a cave and thought that was the perfect spot to bury Sarah. But he did not own the land and would not take it as a gift, probably fearing that problems might develop later.

“Abraham bowed low, in respect, to the people, the Hittites, and spoke to the owner of the land, an individual named Ephron: If only you would hear me out! Let me pay the price of the land; accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” (Gen. 23:12-13).

Ephron then started the bidding process by saying to Abraham, “A piece of land which is worth 400 shekels of silver, what is that between you and me?” (Gen. 23:15) Abraham wanted to purchase the land and accepted Ephron’s terms without haggling. So, Abraham measured out the silver and gave it to him.

Ephron is remembered in this transaction for his greediness in dealing with Abraham. Proverbs 28:22 states that a greedy man rushes after wealth, and he does not know that diminishment will befall him.

But after stressing to the Hittites that he wanted to bury only one person in the cave, the early generations of patriarchs and matriarchs are all buried there (excepting Rachel), becoming a family home of sorts.

“The family tomb is the central symbol for understanding early biblical notions of the hereafter,” said Reb Simcha Paull Raphael in his book, Jewish Views of the Afterlife. “Great importance is placed on being buried beside one’s family members.”

Death was not considered the end, and it served to connect the departed one with a society of previously dead ancestors, according to Paull. “The society was believed to exist in the tomb itself.”

People were able to reconnect in the tomb.

“Death was not seen as the cessation of existence,” stated Paull. “On the contrary, to be gathered to one’s ancestors implied but a passage to another realm where departed family spirits cohabitated and the activities of kith and kin continued within the sacred ancestral society of the family tomb.”

With this background, one can readily understand why Abraham needed to select the best place possible to bury Sarah, because, as noted above, this would be the family meeting spot for centuries to come.

We do not learn much specifically about the life of Sarah in this parasha, but after Abraham joined her in the cave, maybe they continued to talk about their son Isaac. And when he joined the family group, Sarah could understand that Isaac was not injured on top of the mountain but continued to live.

Family reunions after death are great. What family members would you like to be with and what would you talk about?

Shabbat Shalom!


Rabbi Gerry L. Ginsburg (AJR ‘19) is Associate Rabbi of Temple Beth El, Stamford, CT (Conservative). He works in pastoral counseling, adult education, synagogue outreach, life cycle events and worship services.