In the Land of Yitzchak & Yishma’el

This week’s reading, Chayey Sarah – “The Life of Sarah”, opens with Sarah’s death, and Abraham seeking to purchase for her a burial place, achuzat kever. Rabbi Hirsch (19th century Germany) shares a beautiful explanation, and so he writes:
“To interpret “achuza” as “property”, because the object is held – ne’echaz (which is from same root as achuza) is a mistaken interpretation. Achuza refers exclusively to land property, which is precisely what cannot be held. Further, in the instances the verb is used, the object (i.e. the land) is not held by tis owner but rather – the owner is held by the object…. Land holds its owner, and he is bound in its chains… This is also the reason why a person cannot take an oath on the land. This is because land outlines the person; the person is subordinate to the land rather than the land being subordinate to the person. Hence, he cannot subordinate the existence of the soil to the truth of his word”…
Likewise, Abraham wants a permanent place in the land, a place that will stay in the family long after he is gone. A place, that is not so much for her, as it is for him and future generations.
Interestingly, kever, the Hebrew word for grave, is the same word the Talmud uses for womb. Is it the hint for things that are deeply hidden? The end that is also a chance for a new beginning?
Abraham too will die at the end of this Torah portion, and he will be buried by both sons, Yitzchak and Yishma’el.
The week of this Torah portion, I’ve had the great honor of participating on an Encounter program. As Encounter defines itself, it is a “diverse community of Jewish leaders ready to encounter the complex stories, people and place at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.
As an Israeli citizen, I need a special permit to go to Areas A & B under the Oslo accord. I walk through places I have not been able to get to in decades, “encountering” the busy Manara Square in Ramallah and the peaceful glorious sunset over Beit Jalla; the impoverished villages east of Herodion and the luxurious hotel in center Beit Lechem; the antsy, nervous, angry line at the border check point and the tensions over homes in East Jerusalem the morning after the elections.
Wherever I go, Yitzchak and Yishma’el walk with me: Yitzchak with his quality of gevura, din – judgment and bravery, and Yishmael, with his boundless, overflowing chesed, kindness, each one looking over his shoulder at what the other has and what he doesn’t have; each one forgetting his role and focusing on what the other one is not doing well or well enough… What do these two brothers need in order to play nice in their father’s land?
The Torah reminds us through several stories that as adults, they do like each other and do get along; that they learn to let each be who he is, appreciating their complimentary aspects. But the road there might be not simple at all.
May we merit to see peace and wellbeing. Shabbat Shalom.

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