Thursday, November 24, 2011

Avraham's Finest Hour?

I heard a question this past Shabbos that gave me pause. Rabbi Kupfer spoke at Adas Torah on Friday night and he asked as follows.

Why did Avraham wait until his wife died before purchasing the Machpelah Cave? He clearly knew what he wanted (cf. 23:8-9); according to the Midrash he had known for years that the Machpelah Cave was the burial site of Adam and Chavah (cf. Baal HaTurim to 18:7). Wouldn't the responsible thing be to buy it in advance? What would Avraham do if Efron was out of town when Sarah died? In short, why wait?

This is an excellent question that I have never heard anyone ask before.

Rabbi Kupfer explained that the Machpelah Cave was a very sacred site, on the border between Heaven and Earth. Avraham and Sarah would not be worthy of it before Avraham passed the ten tests. He therefore did not buy it before passing the Akeida - which happened to coincide with Sarah's death.

I believe there is a simpler answer.

The Talmud in Sanhedrin (111a) (quoted by Rashi Shemos 6:8) reports Hashem's sharp response when Moshe complained:
What a shame for what is lost and no longer extant! ... I told Avraham "Get up and travel the length and breadth of the land for I will give it to you" (Bereishis 13), [but when] he searched for a burial site for Sara and couldn't find one for less than 400 silver shekels he didn't question me.
According to the Talmud in Baba Basra (16b), even the Satan was impressed:
Master of the World, I have wandered the entire earth and I have not found another like your servant Avraham.You said to him, "Get up and journey through the land, its length and width, for I will give it you..." (13:17). But when he wanted to bury his wife he couldn't find a place to bury her! Yet he didn't question you.
(The Ramban makes reference to this Gemora in his final comments on this episode and, in his commentary to Avos, Rabbeinu Yona counts the burial of Sarah as Avraham's tenth test.) 

This explains why Avraham never bought the Machpelah Cave - it would have demonstrated a lack of faith in Hashem's promise to give him the entire Land of Israel! The very fact that in the end Avraham was forced to pay for it and yet didn't question God was, in the Satan's view at least, Avraham's finest hour.


  1. I heard a shiur a few years ago from KMTT ( which was talking about what Avraham Avinu was trying to accomplish in his bargaining with the Chittites. (Unfortunately I don't know who actually gave the shiur.) The shiur suggested that what Avraham wanted was not just a grave for Sarah Imeinu, but an Achuza - a permanent inheritance. The Chittites were granting Avraham permission to bury Sarah in their land, but were trying not to give him actual ownership of the land.

    With this in mind, maybe it would have been impossible for Avraham to actually purchase any land while Sarah was still alive. Only once Sarah had passed away did Avraham have enough bargaining power to be able to say "No, that isn't enough. I need an Achuza. And I need it now."

  2. The Chasam Sofer suggests that Avrohom might have considered it a danger to purchase a plot prior to the death.

    I'm not sure if I understand the distinction of the level of Avrohom's faith is linked whether reattempted to purchase a plot before or after the passing. Either way he would have claim for needing to purchase a plot in his land

  3. Daniel-
    I am suggesting that Avraham's faith in Hashem's promise is what prevented him from buying the field before Sarah's death. As we see from the Gemorah, Avraham had expected to receive Israel as a divine gift - so much so that being forced into paying for it was a test. In light of this Gemorah, there can be no question why he didn't buy it before he had to.