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Torah Attitude: Parashas Chayei Sarah: Unique elevation
Abraham went through a lot of effort to acquire the Cave of Machpeilah as a burial site for Sarah. The field and the Cave "rose" as they became the property of Abraham. "Every individual is obligated to say, 'The world was created for me." By creating man as an individual, G'd showed the importance of every single human being. The awareness of our importance is actually humbling and only helps us to make the right choices in life. A person should live with a constant awareness that every act one does may tip the scale and make a difference for the entire world. If a person uses this world as a means to serve G'd he will bring every part of Creation, that he is in touch with, to its purpose as it serves and assists G'd's servant to reach his potential and purpose. We all have our individual, unique purpose in life, and it is up to us to utilize our possessions and assets and elevate them as did our Patriarch Abraham.
Sarah's burial lot
In the beginning of this week's Parasha, the Torah relates that Sarah passed away and how Abraham went through a lot of effort to acquire the Cave of Machpeilah as a burial site for his wife. Eventually Abraham reached an agreement with Efron, the owner of the field where the Cave was situated. Abraham immediately paid the full amount mentioned by Efron. In conclusion the Torah states (Bereishis 23:20): "And the field and the Cave that was in it were established [as belonging to Abraham] as a burial lot."
"Elevation" of land
The Torah uses an unusual word for this transaction, "vayakom". The literal translation means the field and the Cave "rose" as they became the property of Abraham. Rashi (ibid 17) quotes from the Midrash Rabbah (58:8) that explains that in a sense the piece of land became elevated as it was transferred from the possession of a commoner to be owned by a king. The Midrash is alluding to the fact that all the nations had gathered to crown Abraham as their monarch when he returned victorious from the war between the four kings and five kings (see Rashi Bereishis 14:17). We may ask why the Torah uses this unusual expression to hint that this transaction brought an "elevation" to the piece of land. What lesson are we to learn from this?
Whole world created for me
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) discusses why the creation of the first human being was different than the creation of all other creatures. The male and female of every animal were created at that same time. However, Adam was created single, and lived for a little while as the only human being in the world, before Eve was created. Says the Talmud: "this is why Adam was created as an individual; to teach you that whoever destroys a single Jewish soul is considered destroying a complete world. And whoever saves a single Jewish soul is considered saving a complete world. [The Kabbalists explain that all Jewish souls were entailed in the soul of Adam.] … Therefore, every individual is obligated to say, 'The world was created for me.'"
Importance of everyone
This last statement could easily be misinterpreted by an arrogant, selfish person. He would demand that everyone should serve him and provide him with his needs and satisfy his desires. In fact, the Talmud (Berachos 58a) teaches, "Every person should express his appreciation to G'd and say, 'Bless be the One Who created all people to serve me.'" Obviously, the Talmud is not suggesting that a person should be egocentric and demand that everyone around him should obey him and serve his needs. On the contrary, the Talmud is teaching us to appreciate how much we benefit from the thousands of people around us. The Talmud explains how much effort Adam would have had to go through before he would be able to put a piece of bread in his mouth. He would have had to sow the field (after clearing it), and harvest the grain. Then he would have had a whole procedure to produce the flour, make the dough and bake it. For us it is a very different story. Most of us can get up in the morning, go to the bakery and buy a fresh loaf of bread. It is mind-boggling to think about how many people have actually been involved in the process before the fresh bread is put on the shelf. The same applies, says the Talmud, to our garments. Adam would have had to tend to the sheep, shear the wool, produce the fabric and then sew himself a garment. By us, all we have to do is go to a store and pick which garment we want to buy. Here again, thousands of people worldwide have been involved to provide us with clothing. The fact that these people are being paid for their jobs does not diminish our benefit from their work. By creating man as an individual, G'd showed the importance of every single human being. And He established society in such a way that every person benefits from a host of his fellow human beings, as if to reinforce the importance of everyone.
Rashi in his commentary on the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) explains that when the Talmud obligates us to say "the world was created for me" this should bring a person to think "if I am so important I better make sure not to destroy myself from this world by transgressing G'd's instructions." With this attitude the awareness of our importance is actually humbling and only helps us to make the right choices in life.
Every act makes a difference
Rav Simcha Zissel of Kelm takes this a step further. He teaches that every individual is so important that it would be worthwhile for G'd to create the whole world for 6000 years (see Sanhedrin 97a) to have just one Jew answering "Baruch Hu u'Varuch Shemo" once in his lifetime. Every "amen", says Rab Simcha Zissel, is worth a thousands folds more. One "Yehei Shmei Rabba …" is like a thousand times answering "amen". And one word of Torah study is worth a thousands fold more than that. This adds a new dimension to the statement "The world was created for me." Each of us has a tremendous power and therefore carry a huge responsibility throughout our life on earth. Every word we utter, and every act we perform, makes a difference. As the Talmud (Kiddushin 40b) teaches that a person should live with a constant awareness that every act one does may tip the scale and make a difference for the entire world.
Using the world to serve G'd
In the first chapter of Path of the Just, Rabbi Moishe Chaim Luzatto quotes a Midrash Rabbah (Koheles 7:13). The Midrash relates that when G'd created Adam He showed him all the trees in the Garden of Eden and said to him, "Look how beautiful and good My work is. All that I have created, I have created for you. Make sure that you do not spoil and destroy My world." Says Rabbi Luzatto, this message applies to every person. If a person is drawn after this world's pleasures and distances himself from his Creator, he will ruin himself and the world around him. But if a person is in control of himself and aspires to get closer to his Creator, and only uses this world as a means to serve G'd, such a person will grow, and through him the world will grow with him. He will bring every part of Creation, that he is in touch with, to its purpose, as it serves and assists G'd's servant to reach his potential and purpose.
With this in mind, we can understand what kind of elevation the field and Cave of Machpeilah underwent as Abraham purchased them from Efron. They truly went from belonging to a simple commoner and became the property of royalty. Efron originally pretended to be a very generous person but eventually showed his greed for money. He would only use his belongings to satisfy himself. Abraham, on the other hand, was the epitome of lovingkindness and dedicated his life to teach mankind about the Creator. Whatever was in his possession would surely be used for a higher purpose. Rabbi Dessler explains that everything we possess was given to us that we should use it in our personal service of G'd. We all have our individual, unique purpose in life, and it is up to us to utilize our possessions and assets and elevate them as did our Patriarch Abraham.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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