Parshat Chayei Sarah
Genesis 23:1 – 25:18
This past summer I had one of the most powerful spiritual experiences in Israel that I ever had. I visited the Cave of Machpela, the tomb of our ancestors in the ancient city of Hebron. I prayed before the tomb of Abraham and Sarah, the first Jews according to our tradition who accepted our covenant with God that I still observe today. I stood before the tomb Abraham and Sarah and imagined this family more than 3500 years ago. But also buried there are Isaac and Jacob, Rebekkah and Leah. Rachel is buried outside of Bethlehem.
The building over the tombs is both a synagogue and a mosque. For centuries Jews were allowed no entrance to the tomb. They could only approach on seven steps outside the building. But with the 1967, Six Day War, Jews were allowed to enter the Tombs!
Today the building is divided. Part of it is a mosque and part a synagogue. Jews cannot go into the area of the mosque except on ten days a year. The Tomb of Isaac is in the area of the mosque.
It is relevant to this week’s Torah portion because it is here in Chapter 23 that Abraham buys the cave and the field adjacent for a burial ground for Sarah who has just died. The Torah elaborates on a detailed transaction for the purchase of this cave between Abraham and his neighbor, Ephron the Hittite. It is clear from the text that this was no gift but the land was purchased fair and square.
This purchase of the cave and the field make it one of the oldest Jewish holy sites.
And believe me standing there before the tombs you can feel the history and legacy of our people all at once. It is important to remember the force of your history and your place in the chain of the Jewish people. Being at the Tomb of the Patriarchs one can get a sense of it.
In today’s world with so much change around us it is hard to find those lasting connections. Even the days after the election, our country is still so divided that for some people it is hard to relate to those who think differently than us whether we are on the right or left or the center!
But as the Jewish people we have a bond that ought to rise above the political to the holy, sacred ground of our shared covenant. That covenant embodies the Ten Commandments and the whole of Jewish learning that is our inheritance no matter what.
Let us pray that in the days and weeks ahead that the values embodied in our tradition begun with Abraham and Sarah-to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the way we begin to heal the divide.