Chayei Sarah
Kol Eliyohu - Parshas Chayei Sarah

Why is the expression of burying the dead mentioned seven times?

(23,4) “Give me burial property with you, so that I may bury my dead from before me.”

Behold, when Sarah died and Avrohom was seeking a burial property for her, there ensued a dialogue between Avrohom and between Ephron and the children of Heth in which the expression of burying the dead is used seven times:

“So that I may bury my dead from before me”
“Bury your dead”
“From burying your dead”
“To bury my dead”
“Bury your dead”
“And I will bury my dead there”
“And your dead, bury”

Various commentaries have asked about this constant repetition, since for the sake of the narrative it would have been sufficient to write the expression only three or four times. And note that the first six times it writes the word 'bury' and then the word 'dead', but the seventh time it reverses this order and writes the word dead first. This is certainly something that needs explaining! However, we can explain the matter as follows:

At the time that Avrohom wished to bury his wife Sarah in the cave of Machpelah, Adam and Chava (Eve) were already buried there, and a further three couples were yet to buried there: Avrohom and Sarah, Yitzchok and Rivkah, and Ya’akov and Leah. The posukim here allude to this with the six expressions of “bury my dead”, corresponding to the six Tzaddikim who were destined to be buried there.

And the gemora in Sotah 13a teaches that when the sons of Ya’akov came to the cave of Machpelah to bury their father, Eisav came and disputed Ya’akov’s right to be buried there, claiming that the remaining burial space was his, and Chushim the son of Dan took a sword and cut off Eisav’s head and it rolled into the cave of Machpelah.

And the gemora in Berachos 18a teaches that wicked people even during their lifetime are called dead, but Tzaddikim even after their death are called alive. But the gemora in Shabbos 152b says that Hashem said to Adam HaRishon “for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” Bereishis (3:19), so how is it possible to say that Tzaddikim are called alive after they die? The gemora there answers that with Tzaddikim this posuk is fulfilled one moment before the resurrection of the dead, when they momentarily return to dust.

Thus we see that with Tzaddikim it is correct to talk first about their burial and only afterwards their death, when they return to dust one moment before the resurrection of the dead. Therefore, our parsha writes six expressions where the word 'bury' is written before the word 'dead' corresponding to the six Tzaddikim who were to be buried there. But in the final expression it writes “and your dead, bury” to allude to Eisav who merited to have his head buried there, because with the wicked their death precedes their burial since they are already called dead in there lifetime. Therefore, it writes 'dead' before the word 'burial'.

Why did Chazal interpret Eliezer’s words negatively?

(24,39) “And I said to my master: Perhaps (אלי) the woman will not follow me?”

Rashi comments that the word for “perhaps” (אולי) is written here without a 'vav', and therefore can be read and understood to mean "to me", to teach you that Eliezer had a daughter and he was looking for a pretext so that Avrohom would tell Eliezer to turn to him and marry his daughter to Yitzchok.

But since it was certainly correct for Eliezer to make an arrangement with Avrohom as to what he should do if the woman will not desire to follow him, what made Chazal suspect that Eliezer had a personal agenda when he asked this question to Avrohom? The lack of the letter 'vav' is not enough by itself to lead to this negative interpretation, since there is no difference in the pronounciation of the word אולי whether it is spelled with a 'vav' or not.

However, we can explain that there are two words in Hebrew which both mean 'perhaps'. One is פן, and the second is אולי. The difference between them is that if the one speaking does not wish the possibilty which he is voicing to occur, then he uses the word פן (which we would translate in English as 'lest'). For example, “lest your heart be seduced”, “Beware, lest there be in your heart an unfaithful thought”, and “lest there be amongst you a man or a woman whose heart turns away today”. It is clear from this that the word פן is used by someone who does not wish the possibilty to happen. Also, we see that Chazal taught that the words השמר ,פן and אל all signify a negative commandment.

On the other hand, if the speaker wishes that the matter will come to pass, then he uses the word אולי. For example, “perhaps I will be built from her”, “perhaps he will grant me favor”, “perhaps there are fifty righteous ones”, “perhaps I will atone for your sins”, “perhaps I will be able to fight him”, and so on. From these examples it is clear that one who wishes the matter to happen will use the word אולי.

Thus, since Eliezer said “אולי she will not go”, and did not say "פן she will not go", it is clear that Eliezer wanted the possibilty to happen, that the woman will not wish to go. But that still leaves the question why he desired this. Therefore, Chazal learned from the missing 'vav' that Eliezer had a daughter and that he wanted to marry into Avrohom’s family.

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