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Rabbi Aba Wagensberg
The news of Sarah’s sudden death may have been more shocking to Avraham than the commandment to bring his own son as an offering. After arriving to the scene, Avraham fell on the dead corpse of his wife with tears in his eyes. After what seemed to be an eternity, “Avraham rose up from upon the face of his dead.” (Gn. 23:3)
Avraham knew what he had to do. He spoke to the people of Ches asking them to sell him a specific cave with its surrounding field to be used as a burial ground for Sarah. This was no ordinary grave. This place later became known as the Machpeilah Cave located in Chevron.
The Tiferes Yehonasan (Rabbi Yonasan Eibuschitz, Cracow, Poland, 1690-1764) comments that there is a rule of thumb with respect to being buried in the Machpeilah Cave. If somebody died at the hand of the Angel of Death, he was forbidden to be buried there. Only somebody that died by the Divine kiss of God was allowed to be buried in that cave.
Avraham knew this regulation and, yet, still requested that Sarah be buried there. It must be that Avraham knew that Sarah died by the Divine kiss of God. But, how did he know?
The Talmud (Avodah Zarah, chap. 1, “Lifnei Eideyhen”) tells us that the Angel of Death is completely covered with eyes. When it comes time for a person to die, the Angel of Death hovers over the person with his sword drawn. At the tip of the sword are three drops of poison. When the person sees the Angel of Death, he opens his mouth in shock at the horrific sight. The Angel of Death throws the three drops into his mouth. The first drop causes him to die, the second drop causes his body to smell, and the third drop causes his face to turn green.
This is how Avraham knew that Sarah must have been kissed by God. After examining Sarah’s face, Avraham saw that it did not turn green. On the contrary, it was illuminated with light. This was how Avraham surmised that Sarah did not die by the Angel of Death, rather by the Divine kiss of Hashem.
This explains why the verse stresses that Avraham rose from “upon the FACE of his dead.” This indicates that Avraham used her face to determine the cause of her death.
Since all the Patriarchs and most of the Matriarchs were buried in the Machpeilah Cave, we can deduce that they all died by the kiss of God. However, we are going to see that not only were they allowed to be buried in the cave, but it was even necessary for them to be buried there. The reason for this is as follows.
The Zohar (Chayei Sarah, pg. 128a) says that when Avraham was about to bury Sarah, Adam and Eve (who were already buried in that cave) got up to protest. They said to Avraham that they already suffer great embarrassment in Heaven as a result of their sin with the Tree of Knowledge. By burying Sarah in the cave (and later having Avraham buried there as well) would only add insult to injury. Since Avraham and Sarah were so incredibly righteous, it would make Adam and Eve look even worse. This would only increase their embarrassment.
Avraham guaranteed Adam that he would stand before God and arrange that Adam would no longer feel ashamed of his sin. When Adam heard that, he was appeased and approved of the burial of Sarah and Avraham in the cave. As such, Adam returned to lay down in the spot that he had been resting in before.
However, Eve was still not satisfied and she continued to protest. Only after Avraham assured Eve that he would also stand before God and arrange that she would no longer feel ashamed of her sin, was Eve conciliated. Then, Eve also approved of Sarah and Avraham’s burial in the cave.
The question is, “What could Avraham possibly do to ensure that Adam and Eve would no longer feel shame? After all, they did sin. What changed?”
The Chidah (Nitzosei Oros, 1) teaches us that the three cardinal sins of idolatry, immorality, and murder were all wrapped up in the sin with the Tree of Knowledge.
Idolatry: The serpent told Eve that by eating from the tree, she would be like God (Gn. 3:5). Since Adam and Eve were tempted to eat from the tree, we can deduce that they wanted to be like God. This is outright heresy. There can be only One God. By trying to also be a “god’, Adam and Eve were guilty of idolatry.
Immorality: The Talmud (Shabbos, chap. 22, “Chavis”, pg. 146a) says that the snake came on to Eve, implying that he had an intimate relationship with her. This is derived from a verse which says that when God asked Eve what had happened, she replied, “Hanachas Hishi-ani” (The serpent deceived me; Gn. 3:13). The word “hishi-ani” can be pronounced “hisi-ani” which comes from the word “nisuin” (marriage; Rashi ibid). Eve basically said that the snake “married” me. This is where immorality is found by the Tree of Knowledge.
Murder: Hashem warned Adam that on the day he partakes of the forbidden fruit, death will come into the world (Gn. 2:17). By eating from the forbidden tree, Adam and Eve brought death into the world which, in a sense, means that they were guilty for the murder of almost all of mankind.
The Zohar (Behar, pg. 111b) adds that when Adam died, he could not enter paradise because of his crimes. Therefore, God split his soul into three parts so that Adam could come back into this world as a reincarnation and repair the damage that he had caused. The three parts of Adam’s soul were reincarnated into the three Patriarchs. Each one worked on fixing one of the cardinal sins.
Avraham, alias Adam, rectified the sin of idolatry by destroying the idols of his father’s store (Bereishis rabba, 38:13, Rav Chiya bar brei d’Rav Ada d’Yafo). Avraham also publicized God’s existence throughout the world (Gn. 21:33), thus going against the prevalent philosophy of idolatry at that time. This repaired the damage that he himself caused in his previous life as Adam by the Tree of Knowledge, with respect to the component of idolatry.
Yitzchak, alias Adam, corrected the sin of murder by willingly stretching his neck out and allowing himself to be brought as an offering to God in the context of a mitzvah (Gn. 22:9). This remedied the damage that he himself caused in his previous life as Adam by the Tree of Knowledge, with respect to the component of murder.
Ya’akov, alias Adam, repaired the sin of immorality. Ya’akov testified about himself that the first drop of semen ever to leave his body went to producing his oldest son Reuven (Yevamos, chap. 8, “Ha’arel”, pg. 76a, Abaye; Gn. 49:3). Since Ya’akov first got married at the age of eighty-four, we can see his commitment to holiness and purity. Only by Ya’akov does it say that his “bed” was complete, indicating that all his children were righteous. This was due to his incredible sanctity. This mended the damage that he himself caused in his previous life as Adam by the Tree of Knowledge, with respect to the component of immorality.
All of this explains how Avraham placated Adam by ensuring him that the shame of sin would no longer exist. Avraham argued that the sin had been rectified. Moreover, the sin had been fixed by Adam himself in his reincarnated states as Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov. Why should Adam feel ashamed? He himself came back to this world to clean up the mess that he had previously created. Avraham’s burial in the Machpeilah Cave wouldn’t bring Adam shame. On the contrary, Adam will be pleased to know that he set straight what he had ruined.
Eve, however, was not so easily satisfied. This is because Adam’s part of the sin had been rectified, but what about Eve’s participation in the sin? Sarah’s burial in the cave would still bring Eve shame.
Avraham promised Eve that she would also not have to suffer embarrassment any longer. This is because the Arizal (Likuttei Torah, Shmuel 1) says that the Matriarchs were reincarnations of Eve. When the Matriarchs helped their husbands complete their missions, they also repaired the damage that Eve caused by the Tree of Knowledge.
When Sarah assisted Avraham to battle against idolatry, she helped repair Eve’s part in idolatry. When Rivkah supported Yitzchak’s rectification of murder, she helped mend Eve’s part of murder. When Rochel and Leah helped Ya’akov veer away from immorality, they helped fix Eve’s part of immorality.
Eve no longer had a reason to feel ashamed of her sin because Eve came back down to Earth in the form of the Matriarchs and cleaned up the mess that she had created.
The Arizal adds that Sarah herself fixed so much of Eve’s mistake. This can be understood in light of a Midrash.
The Tanchumah (Noach, 1) says that women were given three mitzvos to keep (family purity, challah, and lighting Shabbos candles) to atone for three things that Eve caused by her sin.
When Eve gave Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, she brought death to him. This is why women are commanded to keep the laws of family purity. The verse says, “Whoever sheds the blood of Adam (man) by man, his blood will be shed” (Gn. 9:6). A deeper read of the verse points at Eve. She caused the blood of Adam to be shed. Her penalty was that her blood be shed as well. This happens when she has her menstrual cycle. By observing the laws of Niddah, women fix the sin of spilling man’s blood.
When Eve gave Adam to eat from the forbidden fruit, she ruined the challah (dough) of the world. Adam was called the challah of the world because when God created Man’s body, He extracted a clump of dirt from planet Earth (Tanchumah, Pekudei, 3). This is comparable to extracting a fistful of dough from the rest of the dough. Thus, Adam was considered the dough of the world. By feeding Adam from the forbidden fruit, Eve ruined the challah of the world. Therefore, women take off challah in the context of a mitzvah to atone for the ruination of the original challah.
When Eve gave Adam from the Tree of Knowledge, she extinguished the candle of Adam, his soul. After all, it says, “The candle of God is Adam’s (man’s) soul” (Pro. 20:27). When Adam’s soul left this world, it became a darker place. Therefore, women light Shabbos candles to bring light back into the world.
Sarah performed all three of these mitzvos. Sarah’s Shabbos candles stayed lit from the eve of Shabbos to the eve of Shabbos. The challah that Sarah baked in honor of Shabbos stayed fresh and warm from the eve of Shabbos to the eve of Shabbos (without plastic bags!) (Rashi, Gn. 24:67; Bereishis Rabba, 60:16).
Sarah also observed family purity because after she prepared the bread for her guests, she would not give it to Avraham because she got her period while baking the bread, which contaminated the dough. Avraham was stringent not to eat even regular dough that was touched by a Niddah. If Avraham and Sarah practiced such stringencies with respect to family purity, they were certainly keeping all of the other restrictions of family purity (Baba Metziah, chap. 7, Hasocher es Hapoalim, pg. 87a, Ephraim Maksha’a in the name of Rebbi Meir; Gn. 18:6-8).
On her own, Sarah fixed so much of Eve’s sin. Eve spilled man’s blood, and Sarah kept family purity. Eve ruined the challah of the world, and Sarah performed the mitzvah of challah. Eve extinguished the candle of the world, and Sarah lit the Shabbos candles.
Sarah’s burial in the Machpeilah Cave would not bring further shame to Eve. On the contrary, Eve came back down to this world as Sarah and repaired the damage that she had caused. When Eve heard this argument from Avraham, she was appeased and returned to her resting place.
It turns out that there is a deep connection between all four couples buried in the Machpeilah Cave. The first couple, Adam and Eve, sinned with the Tree of Knowledge which contained all three cardinal sins. The second couple, Avraham and Sarah, fixed the sin of idolatry. The third couple, Yitzchak and Rivkah, fixed the sin of murder. The fourth couple, Ya’akov and Leah, fixed the sin of immorality.
This further explains the reason why Avraham had to check Sarah’s face before burying her in the Machpeilah Cave. Avraham wanted to make sure that Sarah had done her part in fixing the sin with the forbidden fruit. Had Sarah died at the hands by the hands of the Angle of Death, it would have proved that she did not rectify the sin, because the Angle of Death was only activated after Adam and Eve sinned. Dying by the hands of the Angel of Death would have proved that Sarah was still living under the influence of the sin (Shvilei Pinchas).
However, when Avraham saw that Sarah’s face had not turned green, he knew that she died by the Divine kiss of death. This meant that Sarah had done her part in fixing the sin and had gone back to the level of Eve before she sinned.
Therefore, it wasn’t only permissible for Sarah to be buried in the Machpeilah Cave, it was necessary, because by being buried there it showed that Sarah had rectified the sin of the Tree of Knowledge.
At this point, perhaps we could add another suggestion which demonstrates how the Matriarchs atoned for the sin of Eve. When analyzing the sin of Eve, one will find that only four out of her five senses participated in the sin.
It says that the snake said to Eve, “You will not die” by eating from the tree (Gn.3:4). Since Eve listened to the snake, she ruined the sense of hearing. Then it says, “The woman SAW that the tree was good for eating, and that it was a delight to the EYES” (Gn. 3:6). By looking to do the sin, Eve ruined the sense of sight.
The verse goes on to say that, “She TOOK of its fruits” (ibid). By taking the fruit, she ruined the sense of touch. Finally, it says, “And she ate” (Ibid), thus ruining the sense of taste. The only sense which did not partake in the sin was the sense of smell.
Perhaps we could suggest that the four Matriarchs repaired the four senses.
Sarah fixed the sense of sight. This is because we find that Sarah was very connected to the sense of sight. For example, Sarah’s first name, even before Sarai, was Yiskah (Gn.11:23). She was called Yiskah because she was able to “Sochah” (look) with Divine Inspiration (Megillah, chap. 1, “Megillah Nikreis”, pg. 14a, Rebbi Yitzchak). She was also called “Yiskah” because everybody was “Sochin” (looking) at her beauty (Ibid). Moreover, after Sarah saw that Yishmael was “playing around” with Yitzchak in a dangerous way (Gn. 21:9), she gave Yishmael an “evil eye” (Rashi, Gn. 21:14). On top of that, Avimelech gave Sarah a veil to wear over her face so that other people would not be tempted by her beauty (Gn. 20:16, Sforno). By Sarah using her eyes to zap an evil Yishmael, and by wearing a veil so that others would not be tempted by her beauty, and by using her prophetic vision, Sarah fixed the sense of sight that she herself ruined in her previous life as Eve.
Rivkah fixed the sense of taste. Of all the Matriarchs, we only find Rivka spending so much time in the kitchen preparing delicious meals for her husband, Yitzchak (Gn. 27:14). Those delicacies helped put Yitzchak into a happier frame of mind so that Ya’akov would receive Yitzchak’s blessings in a powerful way. By using the sense of taste in the context of a mitzvah, Rivkah repaired the sense of taste that she herself ruined in her previous life as Eve.
Rochel fixed the sense of touch. We see this from the story when Lavan ran after Ya’akov and his family, claiming that somebody had stolen his terafim (idols). Ya’akov, not knowing that Rochel had taken them, said that Lavan could search all the tents to prove that nobody took them. Lavan went to Rochel’s tent first and found nothing. Then he checked Leah’s tent second and found nothing. Before searching the tents of Bilhah and Zilpah, Lavan went back to explore Rochel’s tent again. The reason why Lavan was so suspicious of Rochel was because he knew her to be a “toucher” (Rashi, Gn. 31:33). By using the sense of touch to prevent her father from committing the crime of idolatry, Rochel fixed the sense of touch that she herself ruined in her previous life as Eve.
Leah fixed the sense of hearing. This is because we always find Leah listening to what other people had to say. For instance, Leah heard everybody say that Lavan has two daughters and Rivkah has two sons; the older (Leah) should marry the older (Eisav) and the younger (Rochel) should marry the younger (Ya’akov) (Rashi, Gn. 29:17; Bereishis Rabba, 70:16). This caused Leah to cry out to God in prayer so that she would not wind up marrying a wicked man. Additionally, when Lavan sneakily switched Rochel with Leah to marry Ya’akov on the night of the wedding, Leah listened to Rochel to find out all of the signs that Ya’akov and Rochel had between them so that she would not be publicly humiliated (Baba Basra, chap. 8, “Yesh Nochalin”, pg. 123a). By using the sense of hearing to do the right thing, Leah repaired the sense of hearing that she herself had ruined in her previous life as Eve.
Parenthetically, this could explain why Rochel was not buried in the Machpeilah Cave. Rochel certainly died by the Divine kiss of God like all the other Matriarchs. However, her being buried separately from the other Matriarchs was because of the sense that she represented. The senses of sight, hearing, smell, and taste are all found on the head. However, the sense of touch is found on the hands which is at arm’s length from the head. Therefore, Rochel, who represented the sense of touch, was buried a distance away from the other Matriarchs who represented three of the other senses, in order to show what they atoned for.
This could also explain why Reuven brought Duda-im (flowers) to his mother Leah (Gn. 30:14). Reuven was also aware that the Matriarchs were supposed to atone for the senses that sinned with the forbidden fruit. Reuven mistakenly thought that the sense of smell also participated in the sin. Therefore, he brought the flowers to Leah so that she should use them and the sense of smell in the context of a mitzvah thereby mending the sense of smell that she herself ruined in her previous life as Eve.
However, by giving the flowers away to Rochel, Leah hinted to Reuven that there was no need to repair the sense of smell because it never partook of the sin to begin with.
Fixing the sin of the Tree of Knowledge is still relevant to us today. This is because the Patriarchs and Matriarchs fixed the root of the sin, doing the lion’s share of the work. However, we must all work towards fixing specific components of that sin because we were all part of Adam and Eve’s grand souls. All men were part of Adam’s father soul, and all women were part of Eve’s mother soul (Arizal, Sha’ar Hagilgulim, preface, 27-31). On some level, we are all guilty of that sin because we either wanted to eat from it ourselves, or we did not speak out against it strong enough. The Patriarchs and Matriarchs broke the ice and paved the way for us to finish the job (Shvilei Pinchas).
This is why the Zohar (Lech Lecha, pg. 81a) says that when a person dies and wants to go to Paradise, he must first go to the Machpeilah Cave, because that is where there is an entrance into Gan Eden. The couples that are buried there examine us to see if we did our part in rectifying the sin. If we did, they are happy with us and they open the gate for us to enter Paradise. If not, they push us away, in the very same way that Adam and Eve were driven out of Paradise after they sinned.
The way in which we can try to repair the damage done with the forbidden fruit would be to fix the three character flaws that caused sin to begin with. The three character flaws are: jealousy, lustful passions, and honor. The Panim Yafos says that all three faults were present when Adam and Eve sinned.
Jealousy: The serpent told Eve that by eating from the tree, they would be like God. By eating from the tree, Adam and Eve demonstrated that they were jealous of Hashem and they also wanted to be gods.
Lustful passions: The verse explicitly says that the fruit was “desirous” to her eyes. This is a type of lust.
Honor: By wanting to like gods, they wanted the honor and prestige that comes along with being a god.
These three character flaws created the three drops of poison on the tip of the sword of the Angel of Death. Each drop atones for one of the character flaws.
The first drop causes death. This repairs jealousy because a person only gets jealous by being in the presence of others that have things that he covets. Once the person dies, he is distanced from those people and the jealousy stops.
The second drop causes the dead body to smell. This atones for lustful passions because people often run after material things which spoil with time, such as food and beverage. Since he ran after those things anyway, his body spoils as well.
The third drop causes the face of the deceased to turn green. This mends honor because people receive honor from their faces (hadras panim; Lv. 19:32). By his face turning green, it removes the honor.
The instigator of all three character flaws was the snake. Therefore, he was punished in three ways. By having to crawl on his belly (Gn. 3:14), the snake was humbled, thus fixing the sin of honor that he caused. By eating dirt and by everything tasting like dirt to him (ibid), the snake was deprived of lustful passions, atoning for the lust that he generated. By God placing a deep-seated hatred between women and snakes (Gn. 3:15), jealousy was removed. They are so far apart from each other that jealousy doesn’t even begin.
Moreover, the three character flaws cause the three cardinal sins to happen. Honor leads to idolatry, so much so that a person may even start to think that he is a god. Lustful passions lead to immorality. Jealousy leads to murder, because by slaying someone, you can remove the source of what you are jealous of.
Let us summarize everything that we have just learned in a short and concise way. The three character flaws cause the three cardinal sins, which destroys the three aspects of man (blood, challah, and candle), which creates the three drops of poison, which causes three things to happen (death, smell, and green face).
But, the three Patriarchs, with their wives, fixed all of that. Therefore, they uprooted the three character flaws, preventing the three cardinal sins, meaning that no longer will there be a loss to the three aspects of man (blood, challah, and candle), resulting in no more three drops of poison, preventing three things from happening (death, stench, and green face), because they were kissed by God which is not even considered “death”, but, rather, it is called “sleep” (Zohar, Terumah, pg. 151b).
So, let us try to do our part in rectifying the sin of Adam and Eve by saying the following passage from Avos (3:1) regularly: Akavya ben Mahalalel says to concentrate on three things so that we do not come to sin. Remember where we came from, a putrid drop. Thinking of this can help reduce lustful passions. Remember where we are going, to a place of dirt and worms. Imagining that one day we may become worm food can help reduce honor. Remember to Whom we will have to give an accounting, to the King of Kings, Hashem. By keeping this in mind we can reduce jealousy because once we realize that God gives each and every person what he needs to fulfil his mission in this world, there is no longer any jealousy because having what somebody else has can actually be detrimental to us.
If we recite this daily, or even weekly, we can uproot the three character flaws, and prevent the three cardinal sins, and protect the three aspects of man, and remove the three drops of poison, and subsequently prevent the three harmful things from happening.
So, may we all be blessed with the strength to follow in the paths of our holy fathers and holy mothers by destroying any character flaw that might reside within us, and thus eradicate the three cardinal sins from the world, which is doing our part in fixing the sin of Adam and Eve with the Tree of Knowledge, which will make Hashem so proud of us that He will kiss us with the kiss of life, bringing all of us back to Gan Eden Mikedem.
Good Shabbos, Warmest wishes, Aba Wagensberg
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Rabbi Aba Wagensberg, a close Talmid of Harav HaGaon Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg, ZT”L, is a sought-after lecturer in institutions in Israel and abroad. Rabbi Wagensberg is the author of "Inspiring Change" (about self growth) and "A Shot of Torah" (a collection of shorter divrei Torah on the Parsha and holidays), as well as weekly Torah articles. He has created a Torah audio and video library and can also be heard weekly on the Lakewood radio station, Kol Berama 107.9 FM.
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