In this week’s parshah we read about Avraham’s purchase of Me’aras HaMachpelah. Avraham said to the bnei Cheis, “Ger v’soshav anochi…” – I am a stranger and a resident… (Bereishis 23:4). Rashi quotes a midrash that explains the apparent paradox in Avraham’s words as follows: Avraham was telling the bnei Cheis to treat him like a stranger and sell the property to him, and, if not, he will be forced to act as a resident and take what is rightfully his – for Hashem has already said to Avraham that this land will belong to his children.
The meforshim are bothered by this interpretation and ask the following question: In parshas Lech Lecha we learned about the dispute between Avraham’s and Lot’s shepherds. Rashi explains that Lot’s shepherds were wicked and would allow their animals to graze in private property. Avraham’s shepherds chastised them for this, as these were acts of stealing. In defense Lot’s shepherds responded that since Hashem gave this land to Avraham and Lot was his only inheritor (at the time) they had a right to the land. Rashi concludes by quoting the end of that pasuk, …veha’Canna’ani veHa’prizi az yoshev ba’aretz – and the Canna’ani and the Prizi were still occupying the land, indicating that Avraham had not yet acquired the land and therefore allowing the animals to graze in private property was indeed stealing.
This seems to contradict what Rashi says in regards to Avraham dealings with Me’aras HaMachpelah, where Rashi explains that Avraham said he could take the land as its rightful owner, while in parshas Lech Lecha we learn that Avraham had not yet acquired the land.
My Rebbe, Rav Shmuel Birembaum, zt”l, suggested another answer to this question, based on an explanation from the Malbim on a different point in this episode. The Malbim explains that Avraham Avinu intended to accomplish more than merely acquiring a piece of land; he wanted to teach the public that there was an afterlife. The general consensus of that time was that after one dies it is all over, and Avraham wanted to use this opportunity to teach the people otherwise.
With this the Malbim explains why Avraham informed them of his intentions with the field in the first place, and continuously stressed and reiterated several times that he is acquiring the land for a burial. Avraham attempted to instill in the bnei Cheis the belief that there is an afterlife.
Rav Shmuel proved from a Gemara (Gittin 47a) that there are two separate levels of acquisition: a monetary aspect and a spiritual aspect. For example, if a non-Jew acquires land in Eretz Yisrael he completely owns the land as far as monetary issues are concerned, which enables him to do whatever he pleases to the land. However on the spiritual level we do not see it as owned by a non-Jew, and therefore the land is still obligated in mitzvos as if a Jew owned it.
Now we can understand the seemingly contradictory explanations from Rashi. Regarding monetary issues, Avraham had not yet acquired the land. However, regarding mitzvos, Avraham had already acquired Eretz Yisrael. In parshas Lech Lecha, Rashi was addressing a monetary issue, i.e. allowing cattle to graze in another’s field, therefore Rashi explained that the land belonged to the current residents of the land, as Avraham had not yet acquired the land. However, regarding the purchase of Me’aras HaMachpelah as explained by the Malbim, Avraham was using this acquisition as a means to teach the bnei Cheis to believe in an afterlife. Thus, Avraham was able to invoke his property rights as the matter pertained to mitzvos.
What I believe we can take from this thought is the understanding that there is a dual universe, a spiritual-metaphysical universe that mirrors the physical one that we live in. In truth, the Rambam explains that the physical world is a manifestation of the underlying spiritual-metaphysical universe. Everything occurring in our world is a reflection of realities and relationships that exist there.
Rabbi Meiselman, in Torah Chazal and Science, explains that Chazal frequently relate objects and events in this world to their counterparts in the spiritual-metaphysical world. For example, the earthly Beis Hamikdash is said to be located directly beneath the Beis HaMikdash shel Ma’alah (above), its heavenly counterpart, and the avodah – the sacrificial service – is conducted in both simultaneously. Similarly, Chazal say that there is a sar – an angel or spiritual force – corresponding to many if not all aspects of the physical world. The more essential reality is the spiritual-metaphysical one in which these angels or forces exist. Our empirical world is nothing more than a reflection of that deeper reality.
To illustrate: Whenever a physical war is fought on earth, a spiritual war takes place simultaneously between the respective sarim of the earthly combatants. Success in the earthly battle is actually determined not by mundane factors, such as strategy and resources, but by spiritual-metaphysical factors pertaining to the more essential struggle on the higher plane.
While the concept is in fact very deep, a simple thought that we can emerge with is that our actions on this earth can affect both this world and the spiritual-metaphysical world. Knowledge of this capability and the responsibility that it comes with can help one achieve things he may have perceived to be out of his physical reach.