Parashas Chaiyei Sarah

This week’s parashah begins by recounting Avraham’s negotiations with the Bnei Cheis (Hittites) to procure a burial site for Sarah. The Bnei Cheis tell Avraham (Bereishis 23:6): “Hear us, my lord: You are a prince of God in our midst. Bury your dead in the best of our burial sites; no man among us will withhold his burial site from you to bury your dead.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 59:5):
It is written (Tehillim 45:3): “You are splendid beyond men; charm is poured upon your lips, therefore God has blessed you for eternity.” You are splendid in the heavenly realm, as it is written (Yeshayah 33:7): “Behold, the angels scream forth outside [as Avraham bound Yitzchak to the altar, pleading with Hashem that Yitzchak be spared – Bereishis Rabbah 56:7].” And you are splendid in the earthly realm, as it is written: “You are prince of God in our midst.” Therefore God has blessed you for eternity, as it is written (Bereishis 24:1):  “And Hashem blessed Avraham with everything.”
The honor due to an eminent man is dictated by how lofty his character is in an absolute sense, and not merely by how much greater he is than his local peers. In this vein, Shlomo HaMelech writes (Mishlei 12:8): “In accordance with his intellect is a man praised.” For example, consider a world-class Torah scholar, who from his early years served as the Rabbi of a major city with a large Jewish population, and then, in his later years, moved to a small town. Suppose now that someone visited this town and asked about this scholar, and was told that the scholar is the Rabbi of the town, and one of its most eminent citizens. Such an answer, although intended as a praise, actually detracts considerably from the honor that the scholar deserves. A proper answer would be: “This man is a world-class Torah scholar. He was the Rabbi and leader of a large Jewish community teeming with learned men, but he has now retired from this position and moved to our town.”
This is precisely the description the Bnei Cheis gave Avraham when they called him “a prince of God in our midst.” They were not praising him merely for having a loftier character and a stronger record of good deeds than they themselves did. Rather, they were saying that he was so tremendously lofty that he would stand out as a leading figure even in community of the most eminent men. He was “a prince of God,” who happened to be, at the moment, “in our midst.”
The Midrash attaches to Avraham the description “splendid beyond men.” The Hebrew term used here for “splendid,” the doubled adjective יפיפית, can be read as meaning “more splendid than splendid,” just as ירקרק denotes a deep green and אדמדם a deep red, “redder than red.” Avraham’s splendor was on a completely different plane from that of all other men. He was splendid even according to the standards of the heavenly realm. And his extraordinary splendor was recognizable in the earthly realm; as the Bnei Cheis beheld it, they were moved to call him “a prince of God in our midst.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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