Sedra of the Week: Chayei Sara

Sedra of the Week: Chayei Sara

by Rabbi Zvi Solomons


This week’s sedra talks about a location in Israel which is a flashpoint for the current unrest: Hevron.

This is the location of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the building which has been in turn a Jewish Shrine, a Christian shrine, a mosque and is now also again used by Jews.

The building was constructed by Herod the great, and anyone who wishes to know something of the appearance of the ancient Second Temple in Jerusalem would do well to look at the Shrine of the Patriarchs in Hevron. The Torah interestingly calls the cave purchased by Abraham Maarat ha Machpeila- the double cave.

There are several reasons which are given for this name. Some would say that it is because it is a double cave, with either two caves and a passage in between them, or possibly one cave above the other.

Another explanation is that the caves contain couples: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. The midrash tells us that Abraham had specialist knowledge in his day of the resting place of the ancestors of all mankind.

That was why he decided to pay over the odds, so that his wife and the rest of his family could be buried there.

It is interesting to note that the Torah tells us that both of his sons, Ishmael and Isaac, joined together to bury Abraham there next to Sarah.

Today Hevron is a location of much controversy, which Israeli soldiers call planet Hevron.

In the Jewish cemetery is the shrine-like grave of Baruch Goldstein, who gunned down 39 Arabs some years ago.

There is much tension as the Israeli army tries to keep the peace between 500 zealot settler Jews and 200,000 Arabs, many of whom are extremists in their own right.

I would add my own interpretation to the term machpelah (doubled) applied to the burial cave.

I believe that it refers to the double claims on that location made by Jews and Muslims, and perhaps even to the double dose of zealotry focussed by us and our cousins the Palestinians on that particular piece of land.

Perhaps that is why Avraham in his wisdom paid twice as much for it as it was worth.

• Zvi Solomons is Rabbi of JCoB, the Jewish Community of Berkshire based in Reading. See:

read more: