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A Single Step

By: Mrs. Aliza Schwartz

(Based off of a piece by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks)

In this week’s parsha, we encounter the death of our first patriarch and matriarch. The Torah describes their death, and life, succinctly and meaningfully: “Avraham was old, well advanced in years, and G-d blessed Avraham with everything (Gen 24:1). And later, “Then Avraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people” (Gen. 25:8). The text tells us: “Sarah lived to be 127 years old: [These were] the years of Sarah’s life” (23:1). Rashi is troubled by the second half of the phrase: What is added by saying “these were the years of Sarah’s life”? He concludes that the first half of the phrase is talking about the quantity of her life, while the second half tells us about the quality of those years. “They - the years she lived - were all equal in goodness”.

Yet how is this conceivable? Avraham and Sarah were commanded to leave everything familiar to them: their land, their birthplace, their families, and journey to a land unknown and unspecified. When they reached what became their destination, there was a famine in the land that forced them to leave. Twice, Avraham and Sarah’s lives were at risk when they ventured to foreign lands in search of food. Sarah had to say she was Avraham’s sister just so that Avraham wouldn’t be killed, and she herself taken by the local ruler (which happened anyway).

Then there was the seemingly endless wait for a child. G-d had promised Avraham that he would have as many children as the stars of the heavens and the dust of the earth, yet the couple could not even produce one child. The tension escalated as Sarah introduced Hagar into the picture, having Avraham marry her so Sarah could be a surrogate. Yishmael was born, and Avraham finally had a son, but G-d promised that another son, born to Sarah, would be the one “[He would] establish [His] covenant with” (17:18). Eventually, Avraham was forced to send Yishmael and Hagar away, a source of great pain for everyone involved.

Then there was the traumatic binding of Yitzchak. This came right after Avraham sent Yishmael away, his first son and possible heir. After already losing one son, Avraham was faced with the reality that he would lose Yitzchak, his son that defied all odds, the son of laughter and faith, which held promise for his entire future.

By anyone’s standards, neither Avraham nor Sarah had an easy life. They were tested in their faith time and again. How can Rashi say that all of Sarah’s years were equal in goodness? How can the Torah say that Avraham had been blessed with everything?

The answer can be found in our parsha. The two main blessings that make up the Divine promise are for the land of Israel and for children. Avraham is told by G-d no less than four times each, that he will inherit the land, and have numerous children. But the reality we see is that Avraham had to beg the Hittites to acquire even a single field with a cave to bury his dead, and had to pay a massive price- four hundred silver shekels. This does not sound like the fulfillment of G-d giving Avraham “all the land [he] sees” (Gen 13:15). Avraham and Sarah had to wait nearly 100 years- a lifetime- to see the birth of just one son, just one heir. Whether we think of the promise of the land, or of children, the reality falls short of what the expectations might have been.

That, though, is the message of our parsha. In it, Avraham buys the first plot of land in Canaan, and finds a wife for Yitzchak. One field with a cave was enough for the text to say “G-d blessed Avraham with everything”. One son, Yitzchak, by then married with children, was enough for Avraham to die in peace.

There is a famous saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Avraham and Sarah began the journey and had faith that their descendants would continue on to the destination. Avraham did not need to see all the land of Canaan in Jewish hands, nor did he need to see the Jewish people become numerous. He had taken the first step, and had faith in G-d and others that eventually the destination would be reached. It is our time now, to make sure that journey continues forever.

Shabbat Shalom







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