Thursday, November 20, 2008

CHAYEI SARAH: SOUL ARISING

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

Endings are sometimes beginnings, while descents are sometimes the means to new ascents. Avraham purchased a burial plot for Sarah. He purchased a cave, the Cave of Machpela. The word "couple" in English comes from Machpela. Here the many foundational couples were laid to rest.

The word for cave is m'arah. This week's parsha contains the second mention of a m'arah, while last week's parsha, vayera, contains the first time that the word appears.

In GEN 19:25, when Lot is fleeing from S'dom, there is a word pattern that reminds us of m'arah:

"...v'et kawl yoshvei he'arim...

"(and He overthrew the cities and all the plain,) and all the inhabitants of the cities..."

We see the word he'arim, meaning "the cities." And a few verses later in GEN 19:30, we have the actual word m'arah:

"...vayeshev b' m'arah hu ushtei vnotav

"...and and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters."

So we can understand from the juxtaposition of these two usages that the idea of a cave is a refuge from the the turmoil and chaos of the cities.

Now when one's soul departs from its body and returns to its source, in a sense it is seeking refuge from the destruction of its own city, its past refuge from which it was expelled, unto a higher and and safer place of repose.

While the body is placed in the cave (the traditional form of Jewish burial in ancient times through antiquity), and thus finds refuge from the physical turmoil of this world, so too the soul also finds its own refuge.

We see that the letter mem before a word can have two different functions. It can serve as a prefix, meaning "from", an abbreviation of the word min, meaning "from," as in "he escaped from the cities (to the cave).

It can also serve as part of a verb, as a present tense indicator of the causative form. Therefore, when we read "m'arah," we can understand it as "causing something to rise up or ascend."

The soul departs from its body and ascends heavenword. In fact the word "ascend" can be found as well in the same word for cave: uri (spelled with an ayin not an aleph) means "arise."
M'arah also contains the letter ayin. M'arah can be read now as a place of arising. In other words, this idea deeply touches upon the Pharisaic idea of an afterlife, that our soul ascends to its heavenly source upon the severance of its physical sojourn within its vessel of the body.

So now we see that a cave (m'arah) has a double function: it is both a place where the soul arises when it leaves the body, as well as the place which causes the soul to rise. In other words, only upon the actual burial is the soul permitted to rise up. Hence the reason for the bias in Judaism for same day burial. It is a kindness to the soul permitting it to rejoin its heavenly source all the faster.

Lastly, in Isaiah 60:1-3, we read,

"ARISE and shine! For your light has arrived, and the glory of Hashem has shined upon you. For behold! Darkness shall cover the earth and a dense cloud the kingdoms; but upon you Hashem will shine , and His glory shall be seen upon you. Nations will go by your light, and sovereigns by the brightness of your shining."

The light of the Jewish people that would shine forever was first lit by Sarah imenu (our mother). And as she caused her tent to be a refuge from the chaos of the world and the chaos of pagan thought, so too would her descendants in the future be a source of light for all the nations of the world, to follow in G*d's path.

Shabbat Shalom! Good Shabbos!

© 1999-2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l

I was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me. I was born on the first day chol hamoed Sukkos, which is also the yahrzeit of both Rebbe Nachman and the Vilna Gaon.
http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
Dedications are available.

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!