Chayyei Sarah

November 5, 2015

The parsha opens with the negotiations made by Avraham for a burial place for the Matriarch Sarah after describing her death.

Abarbanel takes the opportunity to give a wide and deep explanation of the concepts of death and burial.

“We can easily understand Avraham’s mourning for her and the concern of Bnei Chet for his sorrow.

After all Chazal taught (Sanhedrin 22),”One whose wife’s death precedes his own, it is as though the Bet Hamikdash were destroyed in his time”.

Less obvious is his feeling the essential need for a special place for her burial and the importance of the Ma’arat Hamachpelah in that need.

Why should Avraham acutely feel that need? Why bother with burial at all; surely the body could simply be left to rot?

And if it is necessary what difference does it make to the dead or to the living, where that place is?

A philosopher of the nations [one of the ancient Greeks] said that if the dead are aware, then their burial would only cause them much sorrow and if they feel nothing why bother?

The answer is that Burial is beneficial to Mankind both as far as the body and the nefesh (soul) are concerned. Since the body of a person without the soul is far more useless that that of an animal which does not possess one anyhow, the human body decomposes far quicker, the smell is more noxious and therefore the [environmental] damage to other people, incurred by leaving it lying around unburied, is far greater.

Halacha considers smell as a major form of damages; there is no chazakah in its undisturbed use and despite the sanctity of contracts these may be broken in this respect, since people can claim that they thought they could stand it but now find that they cannot (Magen Giborim, Choshen Mishpat, sec 38).

In urban planning:” The abattoirs and graveyards must be moved from the city 50 amot” (Bava Batra, Chapter 2, mishnah9).

The Torah commanded not to leave the body of one punished by hanging, on the tree [gallows] without burial, so as not to cause impurity to the land (Devarim, 22:23).

Death indeed, marks the decomposition and transformation of the body back into the physical components that it was formed out of, however, it also marks the return of the soul to its spiritual source. “And the dust shall return unto the earth from where it was taken and the soul unto the Lord who granted it”.

Yet the severance between the two is not immediate as the soul cannot return on high until the body has become completely reduced to its components. ”

Twelve months a dead person’s body continues to exist and the soul rises and descends from heaven. At the end of that time the body may be negated and the soul ascends without descending again” (Shabbat 122).

So through burial the body is granted time till it disintegrates into the materials from which it was formed and the soul is finally released.

Now the entity that is a human being, body and soul, bears the image of God, so it is a place for the Shechinah to reside, has divinely granted wisdom, is the pinnacle of the whole creation and has a connection with Him. It is not fitting therefore that after death it should be treated with dishonor, disrespect and abuse, to be cast aside like redundant garbage. That is why Hashem did not want that the people should witness the death of Aharon apart from Moshe and Elazar, while there were no human witnesses to the death of Moshe. So burial is needed in order to give the dead that honor and respect due to a person’s divine origins.

The honor rendered by proper burial is directly commensurate with the moral, social and religious status of the person. So we find that Shaul, who was not the founder of Jewish Kingship, was simply buried together with his forefathers, since now in death he was their equal.

However, David whose dynasty was to continue forever, was not buried in Bet Lechem, his hometown, but rather in Zion, Ir David, that was the burial ground of all the House of David, the King.

If Israel will sin and forsake G-d’s commandments then the “Land will vomit you out just as it did, [because of its sanctity] owing to their sins, the nations that lived there before you (Vayikra, 20:23-24)”.

When a body was cast in haste into the grave of Elisha, because of the approaching enemy, we find that that grave cast it out; the sanctity of Elisha could not tolerate the body of the simple person ( 2 Kings, 13:21).

For all these reasons Avraham saw it fitting that there should be a significant place for Sarah’s burial. So he busied himself with buying ground in Hevron that was, as the text tells us, in Eretz Canaan that is the Holy Land promised to him and his children as distinct from Eretz P’lishtim. In that place where Adam and Chava were both buried, then her bones would never be mingled, even by accident with those of the evil Canaanites or other nations.

In memory of two righteous women Barbie Shenkin and Batya Aryeh, both of blessed memory.

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