Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thoughts on Chayei Sarah

In the story of Avraham's burial of Sarah, one word appears over and over. I'm not thinking of "cave", "field", or "Hittite" - words are that obviously necessary to the story - but of the word "vayakam", which appears four different times, having a different meaning almost every time.

ויקם אברהם מעל פני מתו
Here "vayakam" means that Avraham ended an activity - the mourning of Sarah.
ויקם אברהם וישתחו לעם הארץ לבני חת
Hear "vayakam" means that Avraham began an activity - bowing down.
ויקם שדה עפרון אשר במכפלה אשר לפני ממרא, השדה והמערה אשר בו, וכל העץ אשר בשדה אשר בכל גבלו סביב, לאברהם למקנה לעיני בני-חת
Here "vayakam" means that a financial transaction took place.
ויקם השדה והמערה אשר בו לאברהם לאחזת קבר מאת בני חת
Here "vayakam" means that the field was in Avraham's control and use from this moment on.

Throughout the story the word "vayakam" is used to refer to Avraham. It seems that this conveys the characteristic quality of Avraham - that he is active and motivated, that he "gets up" and accomplishes things.

The opposite of "getting up" is "sitting down". Interestingly, the word for sitting appears once in the chapter:
ועפרון ישב בתוך בני חת

While Avraham is known for standing up, Efron is known for sitting. Avraham is active while Efron is passive. The same word that twice describes Avraham standing is then used twice to describe Avraham's success in purchasing the cave. Through motivation and effort, Avraham purchases his first foothold in the land of Israel; through his passivity, Efron loses his share in the land.

The same is true of us: if we are motivated to keep the Torah and defend ourselves, we will succeed in inheriting the land of Israel; if we are lazy and apathetic, we will lose it.

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