Parashat Hayeh Sarah- Abraham’s Bows
Parashat Hayeh Sara begins with the death of Sara Imenu, which occurred immediately after Akedat Yishak. Abraham now needed a burial plot, and so he negotiated with members of the local Hitti tribe and ended up paying an exorbitant sum of money for the Machpela Cave, where he buried Sara and where he, too, would eventually be buried.
Rabbenu Yona (Spain, 1210-1263) maintained that this episode constituted the final of Abraham’s ten tests. Whereas most commentators were of the opinion that the final and most difficult test was that of Akedat Yishak, in Rabbenu Yona’s view, the need to negotiate with the Hittim for a piece of land for burial was the final test. The question naturally arises as to what made this incident such a difficult test for Abraham that it can be counted along with Akedat Yishak in the list of tests that Abraham passed.
Rav Matisyahu Salomon (contemporary) explained that Abraham’s test was the need to start negotiating for a burial site after all he had gone just gone through. Abraham had just undergone an emotional roller-coaster, having nearly slaughtered his own son, and then being told to desist and that he would earn eternal rewards for passing this test. Upon returning home after this emotional experience, he learned that his beloved wife had passed on. Abraham could have understandably thought to himself, “Can’t I at least obtain a burial site without trouble? After all I’ve gone through, does this, too, have to be so complicated?” But Abraham did not approach the situation this way. He never complained or questioned G-d, and instead simply did what he had to do so he could give his wife a proper burial.
Rav Salomon finds proof to this explanation in the Torah’s description of Abraham’s bows as he spoke to the Hittim. In the first instance, Abraham bowed “Li’bneh Het” – “to the people of Het.” In the second instance, however, he bowed “Lifneh Am Ha’aretz” – “before the people of the land.” It appears that the first time Abraham bowed to the Hittim, whereas the second time he bowed in their presence, but not to them. Rav Salomon explained that in the first instance, Abraham bowed to the Hittim to show respect as a necessary formality as part of his negotiations. But the second time, he bowed not to the Hittim, but in front of them – because he bowed to G-d to thank Him. Abraham thanked G-d for enabling him to purchase the property he wanted. He did not express any frustration or angst, asking why he was subjected to this ordeal. He simply bowed and thanked Hashem.
This is a quality of Abraham Abinu which we can all emulate each and every day of our lives, several times a day. Every day presents its unique struggles and challenges. Even our successes and good fortune generally follow a period of struggle. We learn from Abraham to be grateful without complaining, to acknowledge that everything G-d does is for the best, whether or not we understand how. And this might be the greatest test of all – accepting life’s challenges as G-d’s will, and recognizing that they are all, ultimately, to our benefit.