Jewish Ownership of Israel

Abraham was granted ownership over the whole Land of Canaan, soon to be the Land of Israel, by God Himself. Thus, he had ownership over all the properties he could have needed. So when he needed a burial plot for his dear wife, Sarah, he just needed to ask.

And so he asked Efron, the Hittite, for the Cave of Machpela which was at the edge of his property. Efron and those with him insisted that Abraham can use any plot he wishes, but Abraham insists that Efron "Give it to me" and he will pay full price. In other words, Abraham wants to pay for a gift. He does not say "Sell it to me". That seems strange. Why ask for a gift, and then offer to pay for it? Why not just buy it outright, or accept the gift outright?

A further question about this section. This is the very first land acquisition of Abraham in the Land of Canaan. It is to be used as a burial plot. Why did Abraham not purchase any land previously, for more life-affirming purposes? Why start with a cemetery?

I believe this section is teaching the Jewish People how to relate to all the hatred coming our way from many corners in the world as it relates to our Land. The Palestinian Authority routinely denies any Jewish historical link to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. They deny that any Jewish Temple stood on the Temple Mount, despite all the Biblical history and archeological evidence. And around the world are many, way too many, voices questioning the right of the Jewish People to a state in their Land.

Abraham teaches us to relate on two levels, for two different audiences. For those who simply don't know the facts, and would hold different opinions if they did, Abraham insisted on a completely above doubt acquisition of the Cave of Machpela. It should be a gift, so that the Hittites who give it do so with all their heart, and not simply as a matter of economic expediency. When Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, that sale was never properly internalized by Esau. He was bitter when Jacob took the blessing of Isaac that went with the birthright. After all, felt Esau, I only sold it to Jacob because I was hungry. I didn't really mean it. Abraham wanted to make sure that Efron and the Hittites really meant it.

Secondly, he wanted to pay full price to remove the possibility that Efron might later change his mind. If it would be only a gift, Efron would still feel the land was somewhat his, and he could retract his gift in the future. Abraham wanted to make sure that did not happen, so he paid the price.

Thus, the first approach is to incessantly combat the lies with evidence. Show the world that Jerusalem already had a Jewish majority more than a century ago. Tell how Jews have lived in this land uninterrupted since Biblical times. Prove our roots here through archeology, historical sources and Biblical sources.

Further, show how deceitful the "Palestinians" have been about it. Show how they have no history here as a national entity, and how they are, indeed, an invented people. Refute the lies about how Israel mistreats Arabs and spread the news about how Israel gives more opportunity to the Arabs than they get anywhere else in the Arab world. Tell the world the accurate truth. Someone is listening. Maybe not everyone, but someone.

The second approach is for those whom proof and argument are of no interest. It is the approach of actions, of facts on the ground. How so?

The Jewish faith teaches the principle of the Revival of the Dead at the end of the Messianic Era. In fact, the life we will experience after coming back will be much the richer. Judaism is a forward looking religion, and death is only a precursor to greater life.

The Talmud tells a story of a pagan Queen asking a Sage whether the dead who are revived will be naked or clothed? The sage responds, "clothed." He infers it from the planting of a seed, which is naked. When it grows as a flower, it has beautiful garments (petals, leaves). Thus, the dead who already have some garments will come back with full clothing.

The comparison to the seed is telling. Burial, death, is not an end, but a beginning. Our first round on this earth is to acquire reward for our good deeds, which will return to "clothe" us at the future Era of the Messiah.

Now, not every crop can grow in every type of soil. Corn would fail in the desert. We believe that the Land of Israel is a living, breathing thing, which has a unique spiritual "mineral content". It is uniquely suited for growing Israelites. Abraham "planted" the seed of the long future of his people by burying Sarah. His first purchase was to be viewed as a beginning of an eternal bond.

The Torah prophecies that, during the exile, the land would be "burned, not arable or crop-producing." And so it was for centuries. Read Mark Twain's account of his visit in the 1800s. The Land was desolate.

Until the Jewish People returned. Then, things began to blossom and bloom. Today, Israel is greener than ever. The naturalness of our presence here is visible to all. It's like the lost dog who naturally runs to its owner. You just know.

That's what Abraham taught us to do, to sink roots. To build, to plant, to believe. To respect the sanctity of the Land and live in harmony with it. The more we do that, the more it will naturally bond with us, and all enemies will simply not be able to break that bond. Put facts on the ground, have faith in a glorious future. That is the best way to combat the hatred.

The Sacrifice of Isaac and Ishmael

Abraham, on the day he was to sacrifice Isaac, "Rose early in the morning." Interestingly, there is one other "early arising" in this very same Torah reading. On the day when Abraham was to expel Hagar and their son Ishmael, Abraham arose early in the morning to give her bread and water for the journey. Later on that journey, Hagar lost her way in the desert, and they ran out of water. She put young Ishmael under a bush so she should not see him die, and sat down to cry.

As she did so, an angel appeared and assured her that God had heard the child's crying "where he is," and would be with him. The angel pointed out a spring, and they were saved.

Significantly, the phrase "where he is," is interpreted to mean that, even though Ishmael would later become a violent person of bad character, he is now is an innocent and pure youth, worthy of saving. God judges people based on their current behavior, not what will become of them. (A discussion of the wayward son is beyond the scope of this post.)

Now, was Ishmael so pure at that moment? Sarah, who insisted he be expelled from their home with his mother, did so because of his character. She had seen him "mocking." The sages interpret that Hebrew word for mocking, "metzachek," to imply that Ishmael was already dabbling in idolatry, illicit sexual relations and bloodshed. Doesn't sound so pure to me!

Abraham is not thrilled to kick his son out, to be sure. Yet, according to Rashi, when he gives him just bread and water for the journey, and not any more significant gifts (jewels, money?), it is because he hates Ishmael for his misdeeds. He resents that his son has not followed in the path of God and has gone down a bad road in life. God confirms Sarah's contention that Ishmael could corrupt Isaac, and instructs Abraham to do as he is told by his wife. Apparently, when that message is internalized by Abraham, his mercy turns to bitterness towards his son.

Now, both the sending out of Ishmael and the binding of Isaac were acts that demonstrated a breaking of the bond between Abraham and his sons. In both cases, it nearly cost them their lives (Isaac, in the end, was not killed. Instead, the angel appeared and told Abraham to sacrifice a ram instead. The whole episode was to test Abraham's willingness, which he demonstrated.)

So how do we understand these two acts? What is the connection teaching us? How did things come to a state where such traumatic tests were necessary? And perhaps the biggest question for me is, how could Abraham have ever hated his son Ishmael? Abraham was the paradigm of kindness! It is so completely out of character for him to hate anyone, certainly his own child.

And that is the point. How many parents do we know who behave one way with the outside word, and another way with their family? Abraham had himself invested in Ishmael, and in Isaac as well. Those kids lived under a microscope, and Abraham, like so many fathers, could not forgive in his son what he could easily accept in others. Ishmael had to live a higher life, he could not "mock", could not be attracted to idolatry, lewdness or violence.

So I believe that, pardon the pun, it is all relative. I don't think Ishmael actually did all those terrible things in his youth, but he was tempted by them. He joked about them, talked about them. That, for Sarah, was dangerous spiritually for Isaac, who was younger and much more innocent. Talk like that could certainly corrupt, and Abraham was justified in sending them away.

But for Abraham to resent Ishmael for this, and to rise early in the morning and give him the basics and nothing more, was wrong. Abraham needed to sacrifice Ishmael, in the sense of no longer relating to him as a son, but as a stranger needing inspiration. He needed to treat him like all the people he brought close to God, who were certainly not tzadikim (righteous) before Abraham got to them. For this reason, God repeatedly refers to Ishmael as "the youth" or "the son of your maidservant", while pointedly not referring to him as Abraham's son.

For this very same reason, and to prevent the same thing from happening to Isaac, Abraham needed to sacrifice Isaac his son, in order to let Isaac the independent person live. The sages say that Isaac's ashes remained on the altar, and were used by the sages to locate the spot of the altar for the Holy Temple. What? Isaac was never sacrificed, so what ashes are they talking about?

It is a parable. The altar was the spot where the sacrifices were brought, and where Israel reconciled with God. It was the place of ultimate mercy, where God overlooks sin and sees us "where we are" at that moment. We are in the Temple, the synagogue, praying, connecting to God. We are pure ones worthy of saving. Sometimes, a parent can't see that purity, because they are too connected, and have unfair and unrealistic expectations.

Thus, when Abraham was ready to slaughter his son, that was enough. Emotionally it had taken place, and now Isaac was free to be Isaac, and Abraham was free to love and respect him "where he was." Every parent needs to be able to see their children as independent people, worthy of respect and appreciation.

I contrast two types of parents. One I saw personally. His son was a 14 year old athletic prodigy, excelling in tennis and ranked 4th in the country for his age group. His father, at practices, would sit near the court and berate his kid for every mistake he made. It was painful to see. No wonder the kid have up tennis quickly. This father needed to "bind" his son and see him "where he was," not where he wanted him to be.

The other was Rav Moshe Soloveichik. He was the father of the great Rav Joseph Soloveichik. It is told that Rav Moshe had such respect for his son that he would stand up when he entered the room (a sign of respect for a Torah scholar). Normally, it is the opposite, that the son must stand for the father. In fact, Rav Joseph was uncomfortable with his father standing for him and would try to sneak in without being noticed (some say through the window!). Rav Moshe felt that the biological bond was secondary to the basic respect for the human being, and therefore, son or not, Rav Joseph was worthy of the honor of being stood for.

May all parents be able to see their children "where they are," and love and appreciate the good in them. And may that love nurture fine character in their children, so they should live lives of harmony and holiness.