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Parashat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

“Thus the field with its cave passed from the Hittites to Abraham, as a burial site.” (Genesis 23:20)

Chayei Sarah tells the story of Sarah’s death and Abraham’s purchase of a burial plot for her.  It is the first piece of land acquired by the Jewish people in Canaan.  Most Jewish commentators (classical and contemporary) interpret Abraham’s public negotiation with Ephron (Gen.  23:3-20) as a tactic to prevent any future challenges to Jewish claim to the land.  Nahum Sarna 1923–2005; a modern Biblical scholar) offers a different perspective.


Sarna explores the attitude to land in the ancient Near East, and describes the general reluctance to part with land as a values statement:  the land is an ancestral trust and its sale threatens historical continuity, communal solidarity, demographic balance and social cohesion.  Small wonder the entire town turns out to witness the sale; it is emotionally wrenching for them all.


Sarna’s reading is instructive for us today.  “Who does the land belong to?” remains a challenging central question in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  A first step toward resolution is acknowledgement of the other’s perspective.   Side by Side, a remarkable history textbook, does just that. It presents parallel Israeli and Palestinian understandings of the same historical events.  Its goal is not to advocate, but rather to illuminate. It does not try to resolve, but rather to remind:  Jews are not the only ones with long-standing and profound attachments to the land.  Its premise is accepting this idea is a pre-requisite to any durable agreement.


A pluralistic society requires acknowledgement and respect (even without agreement) for diverse opinions, beliefs, and practices.  Sarna’s approach to Chayei Sarah reminds us how useful it can be to look at something from an opposite angle.


Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom!



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