This Weeks Torah Portion – Chayei Sarah – Between Life and Death -Living On the Edge – A powerful parable about Being Cheap with Nobility, A Great Story About a Few Great Rabbis – and Peace in Your Home – Learn How to Fight
The Torah Podcast Transcript
033 – The Torah Podcast – Between Life and Death – Living on the Edge
Torah Portion of the Week – Chayei Sarah
This week’s Parsha the second verse starts out like this,“Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Hevron, in the land of Canaan. And Avraham came and eulogized Sarah to weep for her.” Rashi brings down, “Why is called Kiryat Arba, the city of four? Because of the four couples that were buried there.” Who was buried there? Adam and Eve, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzhak and Rivka, and Yaakov and Leah. We know that the Zohar states that the Cave of the Machpela is the entrance to Gan Eden. In other words, this is the place where Heaven meets Earth. The Ohr Ha Chayim explains that the reason why we mention Kiryat Arba, the city of four, was to remind us of the four basic elements. He says that, “Death normally implies departure from a disintegration of the four basic elements which the body is composed of.” As the body starts to break down, a person dies. The verse says, “Kiryat Arba which is Hevron.” What’s Hevron? Hevron comes from the word hibur, connection. He wants to say, “The message is that when the righteous die, it shouldn’t be viewed as a process of disintegration. The righteous are still called alive, even when they cease to live in this world. In other words, hibur, they’re connected to Heaven. When a righteous person dies, he goes to Heaven. He’s still alive. It’s the hibur. Kiryat Arba – which is the four elements – is connected, hibur, to Heaven.”
He continues and says, “The four basic material elements that every human being is composed of becomes transformed into something spiritual, and attaches to their souls by the means of good deeds that a person performs during their time on the earth.” He brings the Rambam who says, “When a man cleaves to God, all of his elements become transformed into the element of fire, which is connected up with the soul.” In other words, the physical turns to fire which turns to the soul, which becomes spiritual. Now, we know that Avraham bought the Cave in the Machpela from the Bnei Ches. The Midrash Rabba says that the 10 times it mentions Bnei Ches in the possukim at the beginning of this week’s parsha are connected with the 10 Commandments. The Malbim explains that Avraham’s goal in life was to disseminate religion among the people – the true religion. The Bnei Ches and also the people of Canaan, didn’t believe in life after death, which Avraham knew is a foundation of this world. They had a totally materialist view of the world. They believed that once a person dies, that’s it, it’s over. So, Avraham, instead of being depressed by the fact that he couldn’t find a burial place for his wife Sarah, said to himself, “I’m going to use this opportunity to spread the truth among the people.” The Bnei Ches also had burial customs but they were just practical stuff. A symbolic honoring of the dead, and burying the dead because it protects the people from sickness. The original graves they made were just temporary until the body rotted, and then they would move the person to another place. They didn’t have any concept of a family burial plot, achuzas kever, because they couldn’t understand why would you want to bury a family together? Once a person dies, it’s all over and there’s nothing to talk about. So what’s the difference? They were refusing to sell him the land for him to bury his family. The thought of remaining with his family after death made no sense.
So, Avraham pushed forward and said “I am a stranger, a traveler among you.” He was emphasizing that this world is only temporary. Therefore, he offered them a large sum of money to show them that this little piece of land that you’re buried on, that’s the only thing you have. That’s the only thing that’s going to be left after you leave this world. He was willing to pay a lot of money for that little piece of land. He was willing to pay a lot of money to have a family burial plot. Why? Because we believe in the resurrection of the dead. We believe there will be a certain time where the dead will come back to life, so we want to be there as a family. That’s the Jewish idea of being buried in a family burial plot. They saw how strong he was and how persistent he was, and how much money he would put out for this. And he was under tremendous sorrow. His wife just passed away, and still he’s pushing forward with his idea of buying this family burial plot. This influenced the Bnei Ches similar to the 10 Commandments, because just like the 10 Commandments is a concentrated form of the entire Torah, also the 10 phrases where it mentioned Bnei Ches included Avraham’s methodology of communicating the fundamentals of Judaism. So, it was like the 10 Commandments.
We see that the idea of life after death is fundamental to Judaism. Many Jews don’t even know this. Rav Miller from Gateshead brings the song, Eishes Chayil from Proverbs, that we sing every Shabbos. All these possukim are talking about Sarah Imenu. It says there, “She planned the purchase of a field, and bought it.” This is talking about her burial place. But it’s not true yet. It was Avraham that bought the field, not Sarah. Why do we attribute it to her that it was bought by her? He wants to explain it was bought by her good deeds. Since we know that Hevron was the hibur, the connection between Heaven and Earth, she bought that place through her good deeds. She was zoche, she merited to be buried in that place. It was her perfect dedication of all of her earthly activities, to do the will of God, that it was zoche her, that gave her the merit to be buried in the Cave of the Machpela. What’s Machpela? Kaful, double – double in the sense that it unites two worlds.
Sarah lived a life on earth that was on such a spiritual level that it was connected to the next world. That’s why a Jew has to live a double life. What does it mean, a double life? Spiritual and physical. Even though we’re physical, we have to constantly be spiritual. In every detail of our physical existence, we have to have a purpose to our life – meaning. What are we doing? That’s what the possuk means, “She planned the purchase of the field and she bought it.” She didn’t buy it with silver and gold, she bought it with her own life. She made the connection between Heaven and Earth. And he says, “This was Sarah Imenu, the mother of the Jewish people. This was the purpose of the Jewish people, to connect the physical world with the spiritual world. That’s why God gave us the Torah, because it’s the Torah and the mitzvos that accomplishes this purpose. By doing mitzvos and learning Torah, we feel the connection to the spiritual. And people see from the outside, the connection to the spiritual.”
The Sfas Emes brings a Midrash Rabba which brings the possuk in Tehillim that says, “Hashem knows the days of the perfect. Their inheritance will be forever.” He explains, “The tzaddik, wise man, has the responsibility of piercing the chitzonius. He has the responsibility of piercing through the external things in life, the way they appear, to get down to the deeper meaning and the inner reality and the presence of God, even in the most simple things.” He brings another possuk from Mishlei that says, “Every clever person acts with knowledge, but the fool broadcasts his foolishness.” In other words, both the tsaddik and the ksil, both the righteous person and the foolish person, are both in olam hazeh – everybody’s in this world. Everybody has to eat, everybody has to sleep. Everybody’s busy doing things. But the difference is, a tsaddik integrates the spiritual world into the physical world. The opposite, the fool separates the world. “Nah, I’m in the physical world. What’s the spiritual stuff?” He’s a fool.
That’s why our life should be filled with mitzvos. Every moment, every second is a Shulchan Aruch. There is a law book telling us what to do – how to tie our shoes, how to put on our shoes, and take off our shoes, wash our hands, how we eat, how we dress, how we think, what we should feel. The Torah has every aspect of life taken care of, that we should take the mundane and make it spiritual. This in the end, if we do it, then we have the hibur, Hevron, the connection to shamayim, the Heavens. If we live the kaful life, the double life, the Machpela – we’ll be zoche, we’ll have the merit to go to the next world. And Sarah Imenu was the first of the Avos to pass away. Avraham used this opportunity to teach the world what life is really about. Since we all come from Sarah, Avraham, Yitzhak v’Yaakov, we should all be zoche, we should all have the merit to live a life of spirituality that will take us to the next world.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno brings a possuk in this week’s Parsha. “And Avraham weighed out for Efron the silver that he spoke of in the hearing of the sons of Bnai Ches, 400 shekels, negotiable currency.” The possuk is talking about Efron who was one of the Bnai Ches, who was being tough and cheap with Avraham. He offered the Cave of the Machpela for a very tremendous price – 400 silver shekel. The Bereishis Rabba brings a possuk in Mishlei that says, “He who hastens to acquire wealth is a man with an evil eye.” In other words, if you’re always trying to chap, grab, money, it means you have an evil eye. “He does not know that want will come upon him”. He doesn’t understand that because of this quality of running after money, in the end he’s going to really be needy. The Midrash says this refers to Efron, because the Torah took the vov from his name because he was being so cheap. In the end, he lost all of his blessings. He became very poor.
He wants to bring a moshul, a parable like this. One time there was a nobleman. He was traveling around, and he had to stay somewhere. He found a home of a simple villager, and he stayed there. When it came time to pay the host, the nobleman asked, “How much do I have to pay?” He quoted him a price for the food and the lodging and everything, and he paid him, and he went on his way. He quickly forgot about this guy, and he went home. On another trip the nobleman again had to travel and he had to stay with a simple villager. When he asked him, “How much do I have to pay?” he said, “I would never take money for the honor of having a nobleman stay in my home. The very fact that you chose to stay under my roof is a great privilege for me. I don’t ask for more.” What happened? When the nobleman heard this, he gave him very expensive gifts which were worth much, much more than he would have had to pay for staying by him. Not only that, he didn’t forget this guy. He used to tell his friends about him.
He says, “The same thing with Efron. He was greedy, he was trying to chop the money right up front. In the end, he didn’t understand the possuk from Mishlei that he didn’t know how much he was going to lose by being so greedy and having an ayin hara, evil eye.
Great Stories – Rav Shach
In this week’s Parsha we saw the possuk that said, “I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, and I will bury my dead there.” We see that Avraham Avinu paid a lot of money to have Sarah buried. One time Rav Aharon Kotler sent Rav Shach to go visit the Chofetz Chaim. Why? A certain woman had died in America, and her family wanted her to be buried in Eretz Yisrael, and they were willing to pay a lot of money for it. However, one brother suggested instead of doing that, instead of spending so much money to have her buried, why don’t we bury her right here and we’ll take the money and we’ll give it to Yeshivas. It will be a zechus, a merit for her soul when the people learn and they study for her memory. The family said they would agree, but only if the Chofetz Chaim himself said that that was the right thing to do.
They sent Rav Aharon Kotler a telegram, and Rav Aharon Kotler asked Rav Shach to go visit the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim said, “It’s true that Avraham Avinu paid 400 shekels, a huge sum for Sarah’s burial place. But we can’t learn a Halacha, a law from this. Why? Because there’s a rule. You can’t learn halachas from what happened in the Torah before the giving of the Torah itself. That what’s called masah avos, deeds of the fathers, but you can’t learn Halacha from it.” He continued and he said, “Ever since the Torah was given, the truth is that learning Torah is the highest merit, zechus, that a person could have. It’s top priority.” But he said, “Don’t send it back to them, because they’re not going to listen. They’re under the false impression that a burial in Eretz Yisroel has greater significance. They won’t listen to me. Since they won’t listen to me, I’m going to remain silent.”
Rav Shach decided at that point to go to Rav Chaim Ozer, the other gadol hador, great man of the generation. Rav Ozer said the same thing, but he agreed to send it to them. “Tell them in my name, the Torah declares that supporting Torah study is of greater importance than burial in Eretz Yisroel.” What happened? They sent the telegram back to the family, and exactly what the Chofetz Chaim said happened. They ignored Rav Chaim Ozer, they said, “We don’t believe him.” The woman’s children ignored the letter and they sent the lady to be buried for all that money in Eretz Yisroel. Rav Shach many years later when he wrote the introduction to the Avi Ezri, he quotes this from the Chofetz Chaim. He says, “I heard explicitly from the mouth of the Chofetz Chaim that the study of Torah and its support are the most important values we have.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachman Diament has a chapter here on how to fight. How should a couple fight? In fact, as he says, “Couples are going to fight. If any couple says they never had a fight, they’re either lying or they have a very short memory. There’s no problem with fighting. Your husband or your wife is allowed to think differently than you. They don’t have to agree with everything you say, as long as you don’t attack or insult each other.” He says, “Not only that – if you know how to fight, you’ll wind up with a stronger relationship, because you’ll be able to work out all your differences.” He says, “A couple who knows how to bridge the gap, stop fighting and resume the routine without harboring bad feelings, will grow closer to each other.” He says, “Of course, one way not to fight is to have good middos, character traits, or even in the fight to have good middos. But what happens is right away, the good middos, the good character goes out the window. As soon as you start fighting, everybody forgets about everything.”
So, rule number one – keep it focused. What happens many times in a fight is, people start to drag out the garbage from a year ago, six months ago, 10 years ago. They start to bring all this stuff into the fight as ammunition. But all it does is, it adds fuel to the fire. There’s a temptation to do it, because you’re using it as a weapon. But do not do it. Focus on the argument, on the fight you’re having right now, and deal with that only. That’s rule number one.
Rule number two – know how to finish. Once people start repeating things over and over again during the fight, and the words just get sharper and sharper but they’re really just saying the same thing, it’s time to end the fight. He says, “Put away your pride, and make peace. Don’t continue the fight when it’s going nowhere.”
Rule number three – no overnight fights. Most people would think, “What’s the big deal? One of them fell asleep. The fight ended, right?” He says, “It’s not true. What happens is, even though we had a calm ending because one of them fell asleep, but still you’re going to have to deal with the problem later. It’s like you swept the dirt under the rug, but it’s going to come up later. It might come up even in a more tense way. Better to stay awake and work out the fight the night before.” What does it mean, work it out? It means, “Let’s be friends. Okay, we disagree with each other but we could still be friendly to each other. Each one could give half a smile to each other, and then they could go to sleep.” He says, “Let’s talk this over seriously tomorrow. In the meantime, I apologize if I hurt you. I forgive you if you insulted me.”
Rule number four – keep your voices down. He tells the story of a Knesset member that always used to go up and speak with notes. Everybody thought that the notes were to help him with his speech. He says, “The notes really were just to tell the guy when to raise his voice.” He says, “Raise your voice here because the argument is not convincing”. Usually, the one who’s screaming is the one who has a weaker argument. He says, “Another reason we raise our voices is to interrupt the other one. But that just keeps growing geometrically. At a certain point, both start just screaming at each other. That’s not going to help. You should try to speak calmly.” He said, “A woman once told my mother-in-law, ‘You know that I often feel like fighting with my husband. But I just refuse to give my neighbors the satisfaction.’ So, speak softly in order to stay in control.”
Rule number five is to analyze together what happened after the fight. You’ll realize, what were we fighting about? What a stupid thing, why did we make such a big deal about it? The next time you’ll be too embarrassed to fight. Discussing and analyzing will help you go forward. He says, “But you have to be careful with this, because the fight could start up again. But in a healthy marriage, a spark should not turn into a full-fledged fire.”
That’s it for this week’s podcast, I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends, and please leave comments.
Antwi Felix Twum says
Awesome! The Bible is becoming a real “Character Developer” but I woudn’t have come to this far without your ability to make every letter accessible to all people. May Hashem cause His face to shine upon you and bless you and prosper you and the all the families of the entire workers and students of the Global Yeshiva.
Rabbi Mitterhoff says
Stephan Sundkvist says
How true is the perspective that death is not only to be seen as a process of disintegation, as the righteous are still called alive even when they cease to live in this world. Therefore it is also strictly forbidden to consult wizards and raiser of spirits.
Without contact with the Almighty and eternal G-d, people tend to speculate in astrology, spiritism and other evil things.
As true believers of the Torah we must know that we are connected to heaven. It is also a great hope that our good deeds will be transformed into the element of fire, and that this connection will follow us in the world to come.
So, the life we have in this world is only temporary. Therefore the Jewish perspective is about life, not death.
It is a most important thing to realize, that this life is not all, as we are both physical and spiritual beings. If we forget about this connection, our life will only be like any animals. G-d is everywhere and in everything. He is eternal, without beginning and without end. And to this end we are created to be connected to Him in our everyday life and to fulfil the mitzvos and never lose hope for the world to come.
Blessed is He, who gave us the Torah and all the mitzvos to which we should cling and stay connected to the next world. That is our mission and our goal.