PARSHAT HAYEI SARA
THE SILVER PLATTER
“The field which Abraham purchased from the Hittites; there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.” (Genesis 25:10)
God had promised Abraham and his descendants the entire land of Canaan, today the land of Israel. Nonetheless, when his wife Sarah dies at the beginning of this portion, Abraham has no place to bury her. Abraham goes through a difficult and expensive negotiation with the Hittites to buy a small piece of property, the Cave of Machpelah. In the end both Abraham and Sarah will be buried there along with their descendants Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. (Rachel will be buried elsewhere.)
The lesson from this portion is that, only with difficulty will Abraham gain possession of the Promised Land. Nobody will hand it to him and his family on a “silver platter.” Numerous times in history Abraham’s descendants, the Jewish people would live on the land, only to be exiled. When the modern state of Israel was about to be established, Chaim Weizmann famously said, “The State of Israel will not be handed to the Jewish people on a silver platter.”
This image became famous in one of the earliest Hebrew poems written by Nathan Alterman and published in 1948, immediately before the founding of the state. It pictures a young man and a young woman entering the community, filthy from fighting the war. The people ask them, who are you? They respond, we are the migash hakesef, the silver platter on which the state was given. This poem is often read on Yom HaZikaron, Israel Memorial Day, the day before Yom Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. It reflects the fact that anything worthwhile life only comes through pain and sacrifice. Or as Ben Hai Hai said in Pirkei Avot, lefum tzara agra “according to the suffering is the reward” (Avot 5:23). To quote the English equivalent of this saying, “no pain no gain.”
Nothing Israel has accomplished has been simple. Whether fighting numerous wars of survival, combatting terrorism, resurrecting the Hebrew language, settling millions of immigrants from throughout the world, or becoming a world center of technological innovation, everything has been a struggle. Nothing has been handed to Israel on a silver platter. That leads me to the problem today. Everyone offers simplistic solutions for Israel to solve its problems.
From the left we hear one solution, “end the occupation.” Of course, they never say what occupation. Do they mean the occupation of lands captured in the 1967 Six Day War, lands such as Nablus and Hebron (which contains the Cave of Machpelah)? Or do they mean the occupation of the entire country, pulling out of Tel Aviv and Haifa? Israel has experience pulling out of occupied lands and handing them to Palestinians. They pulled out of Gaza, Hamas took over, and Israel was met with barrages of rockets.
From the right we hear another solution, annex the land. This is the approach of many in the newly formed government of Bibi Netanyahu. This also creates countless problems. The land contains millions of Palestinians. If Israel annexes the land, it either becomes a Jewish non-democratic state or a democratic non-Jewish state. It cannot have it both ways. Annexation is no solution to the Israel – Palestinian issue.
Perhaps a solution can be found to the vexing problems of Israel, but such a situation will be difficult. It will involve delicate negotiations and compromises. And neither side seems ready for such a solution. As an American Jew, it is not my obligation to tell Israel how to solve its problems. I do not live there, and my children do not serve in its army.
Israel was not handed to the Jewish people on a silver platter. But perhaps it is important to remember that nothing worthwhile in life is handed to us on a silver platter. Everything worthwhile requires hard work, pain, and sacrifice. That lesson applies not only to the state of Israel. It applies to all of us in our personal lives.