Parashat Hayeh-Sara: Finding the Silver Lining
Parashat Hayeh-Sara begins with the story of Sara Imenu’s death, and Abraham’s purchase of the Machpela cave in Hebron as a burial site. This story follows the story of Akedat Yishak, which is perhaps the most remarkable event in the entire Tanach, when Abraham was prepared to obey God’s command to sacrifice his beloved son, Yishak.
Surprisingly, there are some Rabbis who point to the story of Abraham’s purchase of Me’arat Ha’machpela as the tenth of Abraham’s tests. The Mishna in Pirkeh Abot mentions that Abraham was subjected to ten tests, and the commentators disagree in identifying precisely what these ten tests were. Most assume that Akedat Yishak was the final and most challenging of the ten tests. According to one view, however, the test of Akedat Yishak was followed by the tenth test – the test of Sara’s death and purchasing a burial site.
In order to understand why this incident constituted a test for Abraham, we must understand the nature of Abraham’s tests. What made these tests difficult was the fact that they entailed contradictions. For example, God commanded Abraham to move to Eretz Yisrael and promised that he would enjoy wealth and prosperity. But soon after his arrival in the land, the area was struck by a severe drought, forcing him to go to Egypt, where his wife was abducted. Abraham’s test was enduring the hardship without questioning God, accepting whatever happens and firmly believing that everything that God does is just and for his benefit. Akedat Yishak, too, involved a contradiction. After promising Abraham that a great nation would emerge from Yishak, God commanded him to slaughter him as a sacrifice before Yishak was married. Once again, Abraham asked no questions and proceeded with resolute faith to comply with the divine command.
This happened again with the test of Sara’s death. After the Akeda, God promised Abraham eternal rewards for his unbridled devotion, and proclaimed that he would be blessed for obeying the command to sacrifice his son. And yet, when he returned home, he learned that his wife had died. In fact, she died as a result of the Akeda; our Sages teach that she perished upon hearing that her son was nearly offered as a sacrifice. And, even after having been promised Eretz Yisrael, he ended up having to pay an exorbitant price for the burial site.
Abraham could have been tempted to ask, "Is this fair? After agreeing to offer my son as a sacrifice, is this what I deserve? And didn’t you promise to bless me in reward for my obedience?" But Abraham did not question God; he accepted what came without any questions or complaints.
In truth, in this episode Abraham rose to even greater heights than he had in the previous tests. The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe Nahmanides, 1194-1270) comments that the story of Sara’s death and burial demonstrates God’s benevolence toward Abraham, showing the respect that he commanded among the people of Canaan. Abraham purchased the plot of land from the Hittim, who treated him with reverence and even offered him the land for free. The greatness of Abraham was that despite everything he was going through, he still recognized God’s kindness. The Torah says that when the Hittim offered Abraham a parcel of land for Sara’s burial, he bowed – and the Ramban explains that he bowed to God, to thank Him for allowing him to properly bury his wife. Although he had just lost his wife, despite God’s promise of reward, Abraham had the faith and composure to give praise and thanks to Hashem for the kindness he received. He was grateful for the way he was treated by the people around him, and for having the opportunity to give his wife a respectful burial. As hard as things were, Abraham saw the silver lining and expressed his appreciation to Hashem.
This is even a greater level of piety and faith. Not only did Abraham accept God’s decisions without asking questions, he went even further – actually thanking God and feeling grateful for everything that was good.
This is an important example for us to follow. Yes, life can be difficult and trying; we all go through "tests" of one sort of another throughout our lives. As the descendants of heirs of Abraham Abinu, we must look for the silver lining in every dark cloud, and find Hashem’s kindness and benevolence even during life’s more difficult periods. We all have what to be grateful for, no matter the situation. Our patriarch showed us how to be grateful and appreciative even in hard times. Through unwavering faith in God’s justice, we are able to withstand even life’s most difficult tests, and remain content and joyous over the many wonderful blessings we have been given.