So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. — Genesis 23: 17–18
The Torah portion for this week, Chayei Sarah, which means “the life of Sarah,” is from Genesis 23:1—25:18 and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 1:1–31.
During the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, the Jordanians captured Jerusalem. After destroying and looting many centuries-old synagogues, they decided to build some structures of their own. They chose a site southwest of the ancient Temple to build an Islamic school. When Israeli archeologists heard of this, they quickly sent a message to the Jordanians that the site was a very important archeological site. It contained the remnants of an Islamic palace from the seventh century. The Jordanians sent an abrupt reply, “We do not care about palaces from the past. We need a school today!”
The Jewish people have always cared deeply about the past. It is from the past that we learn how to live in the present and create a better future.
In this week’s Torah portion, Abraham bought the Cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite. The Jewish sages teach that each man felt that he got the better deal. Ephron received 400 shekels. For some perspective, research has uncovered that the average yearly wage at the time was six to eight shekels. Ephron made a killing! However, Abraham appreciated the priceless value of the cave since it was the burial site of Adam and Eve. As an important historical and spiritual site, the cave was beyond value to Abraham.
In Deuteronomy 32:7 we read, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past . . .” We are required to remember history and to consider the significance of the past. It is only when we appreciate our history that we can fully live in the present.
Since the time of Abraham, the children of Israel have always honored their history and kept a record of the past. Exodus 24:7 makes reference to “the Book of the Covenant.” The sages teach that this book contained the history of the children of Israel. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, they would read from this book every week on the Sabbath. Its contents included the promise that God made to their forefather Abraham that while his descendants would go down to Egypt, they would also be redeemed. The book also told of tests and trials that their forefathers overcame. It told of miracles and providence afforded to them by God. Reading this book of history gave the Israelites the strength, faith, and fortitude to make it through their most difficult times.
Today, we also need to remember and consider our personal histories, our family histories, the roots of our faith, and world history in general. Think of something that happened in your family’s history – an inspiring story or occurrence – and draw strength from the past to guide you today.
Honor Rabbi Eckstein