How did Sarah merit to live so long?
(23,1) “And the life of Sarah was a hundred years and twenty years and seven years; the years of the life of Sarah.”
We wish to understand the juxtaposition of the death of Sarah to the previous parsha. Rashi seemed to deal with question in posuk 2, “and Avrohom came to eulogize Sarah”, but Rashi wrote there that it was juxtaposed to the binding of Yitzchok. But really the death of Sarah is not juxtaposed to this, but rather to that which it says in posuk 22:20 “Behold, Milcah bore sons also her”.
To understand this juxtaposition, we must start by saying that Milcah gave birth only because Sarah was visited with a child. As it says in the Midrash on parshas Vayeira, that at the time that Sarah was visited, several other barren women were also visited, and therefore we can say that also Milcah merited to give birth only through Sarah.
In fact, I already explained elsewhere that the words “also her” in the above posuk mean that she gave birth also in addition to Sarah, that through Sarah she also merited to be visited with children. But now it seems to me that we can add that this is the intention of that which is written in parshas Lech Lecha 17:16 “And I will bless her, and I will also give to you from her a son; and I will bless her, and she will become a mother of nations; kings of nations will be from her”. Why does the posuk repeat the phrase “I will bless her”?
But the meaning is that Hashem said that Sarah will merit two blessings. One for herself - that she will bear a son, and the second that she will be the cause of preserving the nations by assisting all of them to be visited with children through her. Therefore, their offspring will also be considered as hers. This is what the posuk is saying, “I will bless her and I will also give to you from her a son”. And then “I will bless her” a second time, that not only will she be visited with a child, but also “she will become a mother of nations” - she will be the ‘medicine’ and the cause of healing for all the nations, because they will be visited because of her. Therefore, “kings of nations will be from her”, because through her they will be born, and therefore they be considered as hers.
Now, when Sarah laughed when she heard the announcement that she was to have a child, she became liable to be punished with death. But before the birth of Yitzchok it was not possible that she should die, because although she had sinned, Avrohom did not deserve to lose Yitzchok. And the Midrash explained that it was not possible to have a son like this from any other woman. So for the sake of Yitzchok she stayed alive until his birth. But at least then she should have died because of her sin. The reason she did not was the reason which we mentioned earlier, because Hashem promised to her that also other barren women will be visited because of her.
The explanation of this can be learned from the law that is brought in Choshen Mishpot, Siman 247, concerning someone who commands on his deathbed that when he dies his property should be given to person A, and afterwards (when A dies) to B, and then to C. The halachah is that if B dies in the lifetime of A, then C will never get the property, since he can only gain the property through B, and B himself never gained it.
Here also, the other women were visited only in the merit of Sarah. Therefore, it is as if Hashem promised to Sarah children and from her the other barren women would receive the children. And therefore He said “and I will bless her and she will become the mother of nations”, that she will receive the blessing first and from her it will continue to the other nations to give birth. “And kings of nations from her shall be”, that Sarah will merit them, and they will receive from her hand. Therefore, it was necessary that Sarah still be alive at the time when the other women were to be visited with children, in order that she will merit the children, and they from her. But if she died before, then since she herself did not merit them, how could they receive them? Therefore Sarah must remain alive all this time.
This then is the explanation of the juxtaposition - “Milcah bore sons also her” that through Sarah she also merited to be visited with children. Therefore, “and the life of Sarah was a hundred years…” - therefore Sarah lived such a long time.
Why was Sarah so distressed when she heard that Yitzchok had almost been sacrificed?
(23,2) “And Sarah died in Kiryas Arba…”
The commentaries bring the Midrash that says that the Satan came to Sarah and told her that if not for the angel (who stopped Avrohom), Yitzchok would have been slaughtered. When she heard this she said: If not for the angel, my son Yitzchok would have been slaughtered? And her soul flew away. But why indeed was Sarah so distressed?
Behold, the Yefas Toar brings a different Midrash, that Avrohom said to Hashem: First You said “for in Yitzchok will be called your offspring”. And afterwards You said “take your son, your only one”, and then You went back and said “don’t send forth your hand to the lad”! The Yefas Toar asked why did Avrohom not say immediately at the time when Hashem told him to take his son: Surely You said “in Yitzchok will be called your offspring”? He answered that at that point Avrohom did not have any question, because he knew that if he had sinned since he had been promised a son, this could cause Hashem to change from bad to good, to cancel the good that had been promised to him. But when Hashem said to him “do not send forth your hand”, Avrohom saw that He had not changed from his earlier promise, because if he had sinned why did Hashem revert back. Therefore, he now had good reason to ask: Earlier you said to me, etc.
Now, it is well known the opinion of the Rambam, that where a promise is made by Hashem Himself, He can change from good to bad. But if Hashem promises through a messenger, a prophet, then even because of a sin He will not change from good to bad, in order that people should not say that he is a false prophet. According to this, behold, when Hashem promised Avrohom “in Yitzchok will be call your offspring” this was good for both Avrohom and Sarah. And on the contrary, it was even better for Sarah, because Avrohom already had another son who could inherit him. Indeed, when Sarah told Avrohom to drive away Hagar and Yishmael, it says “and the matter was very bad in the eyes of Avrohom concerning his son”. So we see that this promise was not as good to Avrohom. But to Sarah it was very good, since she had no other son.
Now, this promise was made to Avrohom directly, not through a messenger, but to Sarah it was made through an emissary, through Avrohom. Therefore, Avrohom himself, even though Hashem said to him “take your son” was not able to question this, because it was possible that a sin had caused the promise to be annulled. But with Sarah, to whom the promise had been through an emissary, certainly had an argument, that how was it possible that if not for the angel Yitzchok would have been slaughtered? Surely Hashem promised me through an emissary, and so even if I have sinned He would not change from this promise.
How much money did Ephron ask from Avrohom in private?
(23,16) “And Avrohom listened to Ephron, and Avrohom weighed to Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the children of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, accepted by the merchant.”
Behold, the phrase “in the hearing of the children of Heth” is seemingly superfluous. But it seems to me that we can explain these words by first examining that which is written in the previous posuk “four hundred shekels of silver, between me and you what is it?”. If the Torah intended that these words have a straightforward meaning, then it should have said the opposite “what is it between me and you”. Therefore it seems to me that his words had a different meaning, as follows:
Behold, it is normal for an average person only to accept money which can be spent everywhere, and in every country. But a large merchant who does business with places far away, will accept money even though it can be spent in only part of the world. Now, Avrohom and Ephron were great merchants and princes, and to them any coinage was acceptable. So Ephron was saying to Avrohom “a land worth four hundred shekels”, and which type of shekel is it worth, “between me and you”, that is, these shekalim are only considered shekalim between me and you, and not to the whole world. And thus he revealed his mind that the land was worth only four hundred inferior shekalim.
Therefore, the posuk speaks out that Ephron’s statement “between me and you” was only said to Avrohom in private, but in the hearing of the children of Heth Ephron said that he wants superior shekalim which are currency everywhere. This is what the posuk is saying, “and Avrohom weighed to Ephron the silver which he spoke in the hearing of the children of Heth”, and that is “four hundred shekels acceptable by the merchant”, and not like he had said to Avrohom privately.
What did Ephron lose by his greediness?
(23,16) “And Avrohom listened to Ephron, and he weighed to Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the children of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, acceptable by the merchant.”
In the Midrash it says that the posuk “and Avrohom weighed to Ephron” is explained by the posuk in Mishlei 28:22 “He who hastens after wealth is a man with an evil eye, and he does not know that a deficiency will come to him”. “He who hastens after wealth is a man with an evil eye” - this is Ephron, “and he does not know that a deficiency will come to him” - that Hashem will make his name lack a vav. This Midrash is a puzzle - what is it trying to say?
But behold, in another Midrash it says that the reason why the phrase “the children of Heth” is written ten times, is to teach that whoever assists in arranging the secure purchase of property for a Tzaddik, it is as if he observed the ten commandments. But granted this is true if he does it for the sake of Heaven, but if he only does it for his personal benefit it certainly cannot be considered as if he observed the ten commandments.
Now, when Ephron first spoke to Avrohom concerning the sale of the field, he said “I have given you the field, and the cave that is in it I have given to you; before the eyes of the children of my people I Have given it to you”. The phrase “before the eyes of the children of my people” appears to be superfluous. But the meaning is that Ephron was hinting to him that really he desired to sell the field and to receive money, but publicly it was a disgrace for him that a rich and honoured man should sell his field. Therefore, because of his shame from his people he gave it to him as a present. This is what it says “before the eyes of the children of my people I have given it” - because it is in public before their eyes I have given it to you, because I am embarrassed to accept the money. According to this he had already revealed the evil in his heart that he desired more the money, and he did not intend for Avrohom’s benefit. If so, he does not have the reward of the ten commandments.
And according to this behold, until “and Ephron answered” (posuk 10) the Torah mentions the children of Heth four times, and from that point onwards it mentions them six times. That is, until “and Ephron answered” he had not revealed his evil heart that his focus was on the money, and so he was considered as if he was observing the ten commandments like all his people. But from “and Ephron answered” and onwards, when he revealed his evil heart, no longer was it considered as if he had observed the ten commandments, and he lost his portion from amongst all the children of Heth, losing the six commandments which correspond to the additional six times the children of Heth are mentioned.
This is what the Midrash is saying “He who hastens after wealth is a man with an evil eye” - this is Ephron, “and he does not know that a deficiency will come to him” - that Hashem will make him lack a ‘vav’, that he lost six commandments because he hastened after wealth, and he was left only with the four commandments that he had until “and Ephron answered”.