It was the very first showdown over the land. Rife with tension, flooded with drama, the two sides facing off, one against the other. Kind of like now, right?
It was tense. It was dramatic. It was also a business deal, which makes it rather anticlimactic. (I mean, really, war would be a lot less sensational if it were just a series of handshakes. Would minimize the damages, though, so I can get behind something like that, so long as all sides agree to play fair.) I refer, of course, to Abraham’s purchasing the plot of land on which the current city of Hebron stands, the field which now houses the Tomb of the Patriarchs at מערת המכפלה. And I bring it up because it’s contained within this week’s Torah portion, and it is impossible to ignore that first conquest (if it can be called that) of our land and its connection to the current events in Israel.
Let’s just quickly recap the story, as it is relayed in the Bible: Sarah, at 127 years young, had just passed away. Her husband, Abraham, was a nomadic shepherd who pitched his tent wherever there was space but had no land to call his own. He had been promised this land for his children, but at that point, he claimed no ownership of it and had absolutely no rights to it. In theory, that’s not such a big deal for a nomadic shepherd, except that now he had no place to bury his wife. In this land that was supposed to be his.
And so he got up from his grief and did something about it. He approached the local Hittites, negotiated with the governor, and eventually paid an arm and a leg for a field and a cave. It cost him 400 silver shekels, a number that needs to be put into context: The silver shekel was the currency of the Ancient Near East at the time (Hammurabi, where you at), and each shekel was about a third of an ounce of silver. That means that Abraham shelled out approximately 133 ounces of silver for this parcel of land. Not only that, though: Realize that a month of labor was worth one single shekel. Which means that Abraham spent 400 months’ worth of salary on this field-cave combo. And to put that into perspective, I’m not even 400 months old. It’s a staggering amount of money for very little return.
But he paid it. He negotiated in good faith, was extorted, and at the end of the day, he paid the price that was demanded in order to cement his and his family’s ties to the land. But he didn’t stop there. Because his next act was to send his valet back to Mesopotamia to secure a wife for his son, Isaac, because it’s not enough to have the land, you also need to have a future. It’s not enough to have what you have right here and right now; you need something to build towards and work towards and something greater to live for. And much of the remainder of the Torah portion that we read this week consists of the story of that valet finding Rebecca and bringing her back to Abraham’s house, and the rest of the Bible moves forward from there because, well, that’s the way narratives unfold.
It’s important, though, to investigate the story for its themes and messages because it is our very first connection with the land. And in my quick, superficial investigation, I uncovered three important principles—principles that we all know, yet bear repeating in this context:
- There is a well-known Hebrew maxim that says, “ארך ישראל נקנית בייסורים, Israel is acquired through suffering.” That’s established here. It was a lot of money. A lot.
- She is worth the price. That’s what Abraham teaches us in his forking over all of that money, which is literally more money than I could have made in my lifetime. Israel is worth the price.
- It’s not enough to have her right now. It’s not enough to simply live in the moment and for the moment. There has to be a future. That is why Abraham’s response to his grief and mourning is not just to purchase the land, but to purchase the land and secure a wife for his son.
I didn’t say anything revolutionary here. I didn’t break any news; I didn’t say anything controversial. These are all basic premises that we know. But what’s key, what’s established for us in this week’s Torah portion, is that these basic premises go as far back as the inception of our relationship with the land of Israel. They are part and parcel of that relationship, a relationship that is built on unequivocal, unconditional love, a relationship that stands up to the trials that it faces and says, “I know this is hard. But you are worth it.”
We are am yisrael, the nation of Israel. We are only half of ourselves without our land (and some might argue that she’s our better half). This land is your land. This land is my land. From the river to the sea, Israel is here and always will be, and we will be right there alongside her, fighting for her, dying for her, living for her, because thousands of years ago, our forefather had the strength to establish an eternal legacy in this land that was passed down through toil and suffering to you and me.
This land is our land. And she is worth it.
Please continue to pray for us, and for the following soldiers, especially:
עזרא צבי יוסף בן אריאלה פנינה
יעקב זכריה בן אריאלה פנינה
אליהו סִינַי בן ביילא רבקה
נַתַּן בן דבורה אסתר
דוד אלכסנדר בן דבורה אסתר
אלכסנדר בן שרה אלישבע
ראובן אליעזר בן אביגיל אסתר
בועז כָּלֵב בן יפָה מרים
יצחק אייזיק בן פריידא
אהרן בן רחל ברכה
חובב בן דבורה אסתר
שמחה בן הינדא ברכה
כי ה׳ אלקיכם ההולך עמכם להלחם לכם עם אויביכם להושיע אתכם. ה׳ ישמור צאתך ובואך מעתה ועד עולם