Rabbi often spends a lot of time officiating at weddings and at funerals. Can be difficult to go back and forth between these two extremes of human emotion.
Of course, that is how life is; sadness and joy, tragedy and celebration, loss and renewal, rub shoulders with each other.
And so it is that we find these two extremes in close juxtaposition in this weeks parshah, which begins with Sarah’s death and אברהם’s efforts to find a suitable burial place for her, and then immediately goes on to the story of אליעזר’s search for a wife for יצחק, and culminates in the marriage of יצחק and רבקה, ending on the note of וינחם יצחק אחרי אמו, and so the story moves on to the next chapter.
But while one might simply see this juxtaposition as another example of the way in which, in life, tragedy and שמחה follow on each other heels, its seems that the connection is deeper – because this very connection between the purchase of מערת המכפלה and marriage is embedded by the הלכה into the very structure of Jewish marriage:
How do we know that marriage is contracted with כסף ושוה כסף – for example, with a ring, but not necessarily – The Gemara explains that we derive כי יקח איש אשה from נתתי כסף השדה קח ממני – קיחה קיחה משדה עפרון.
How seemingly morbid – that the very instrument of marriage should be somehow connected – modeled on the purchase of a burial plot!
Could make some cheap jokes – will pass.
Important lesson. אברהם and שרה had come a very long way together. How many, many years ago had it been that they began their life together, two young revolutionaries in far away אור כשדים, fighting paganism together.
And then, together, they had left everything behind, set out for an unknown land, leaving family and friends behind. And how much had they been through – always together – in the years since? The many trials, the shared dangers, the shared pain of childlessness, the joy of יצחק’s birth – a full lifetime together. And now this unique shared life was coming to a close.
It was many, many years since אברהם and שרה had first begun their life together. And now, that shared journey that had begun with the giving of כסף קדושין – of a wedding ring, or whatever was the equivalent in those times – was ending with the counting out to עפרון of the money with which to purchase a place for them to be buried together.
Yet the one was as much an expression of love and commitment as the other. The same love, the same loyalty, and the same commitment that he had shown then – at the beginning of the journey – were present now at the end. They had faced life together, and now they faced the end of life together; she going first, and he preparing a place for both of them to be together in death.
Real commitment has to constant, through good times and bad, through thick and thin; equally strong under the חופה and in the shadow of tragedy. It is measured not only in how we rejoice together, but also in how we cry together.
קיחה קיחה משדה עפרון – because the commitment that a young groom makes to his bride under the חופה, and the commitment that אברהם showed in his old age in arranging the קבורה of שרה – are one and the same. The one is the completion of the other.
What is true of marriage is true of every other commitment in life. The measure of commitment – to a friend, to a job, to a kehillah – is how well it holds up when things are difficult. A fair weather commitment is no commitment at all.
Coming to a דף יומי, for example, is a kind of commitment, and our many דף יומי participants can tell you it’s not always easy, especially in the very hard מסכתות that they’ve been learning lately. And one of the beauties of the דף is that it inculcates the idea of commitment to Torah study – not just when it feels like it, not just on occasion, but on a regular – committed – basis.
And I’d like to add a particular יישר כח to some of the young men in the קהילה who recently started coming to the דף – and to their wives, in particular, because the דף requires at least as much commitment from the wives as from the husbands.
Being part of a shul is also a commitment. That’s one of the things that our young people need to be educated to – that you don’t come to a shul – you belong to a shul, and share in the life – in the joys and sorrows, the difficulties and the achievements – of the entire kehillah. And that kind of commitment, we know, can be deeply enriching.
Love of ארץ ישראל – and commitment to ארץ ישראל – are an important part of our lives, of who we are, or what this קהילה represents. We take great pride in the accomplishments of her people; we celebrate her victories, we pray for her welfare.
But the depth of our commitment to ארץ ישראל is measured not only by how we rejoice with her – שישו את ירושלים כל מאהביה – but by how we share her troubles. It is measured not only by how well we rejoice when she is victorious – but also in how firmly we stand by her when she is beleaguered. It is tested not by how ready we are to sing with her – but by how willing we are to cry with her.
The people of Israel are going through the most trying period in her history. Since the beginning of the present onslaught five years ago over one thousand Jews have been killed; tens of thousand wounded; countless lives touched by tragedy. And they have stood up heroically. ברוך השם we have a president who gave her government free reign to fight back, and thanks to the effort of her brave soldiers and to סייעתא דשמיא the level of attacks has been reduced by 85%. By the attacks continue, and our enemies plot every day new ways to bleed her.
Each year since the beginning of the present troubles our shul has sent a mission to ארץ ישראל. Our members have visited communities on the front line, sat in their homes, visited their schools, danced with their children. We have listened spellbound as heroes told their stories; sat and cried with bereaved parents, seen first hand the shattered lives, and everywhere we have been awed by the unbelievable courage and faith that we were privileged to witness.
An important part of what we do, of course, is to give צדקה. We have forged a partnership with a very special organization in ארץ ישראל – One Family – whose volunteers are in contact with every family in Israel that is touched by terror, and which keeps a databank of what their needs are, and what funds they are already receiving. The families that we help have lost breadwinners, need therapies, rehabilitation – the needs go on and on. And our presence and our help are tremendously meaningful. It is, in many ways, our shul’s finest hour. And all of us – those who go, of course, but also those who send money and are with us in spirit – have a share in it.
The people of ארץ ישראל are being tested today, as few peoples have been tested before. And we are being tested, too. Our commitment to ארץ ישראל, toכלל ישראל – ultimately, to אלקי ישראל, is being tested. I ask you to show the depth of your commitment by participating in this effort. And in that merit may we say together ישועות ונחמות, and the advent of the גאולה שלימה בב"א.