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Parashat Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Although Chayei Sarah means “the life of Sarah,” this parashah actually begins with her dying at one hundred and twenty-seven years old. Once we are given this information, the Torah recounts the process by which her husband, Abraham, procured a burial location for her. It details the dialogue between Abraham and the local Canaanites, the location of the burial site, the name of the seller, the selling price, and the transaction details. In this dialogue between Abraham and Ephron the Hittite (the seller), Abraham petitioned with the local population by saying, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you” (Genesis 23:4). Why does Abraham say this, and what is the significance? Let’s explore its implications.

Sarah died at Hebron (23:2), and that is where Abraham sought to purchase a tomb for her. The land Hashem promised Abraham extends from the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates that flows through modern-day Syria and Iraq (Genesis 15:18–20). Before Sarah’s passing, Abraham had been dwelling in Beersheba, which is about 45 miles southwest of Jerusalem as the crow flies. If we think about Abraham’s location when he was speaking, he was within the land that God had promised him and was already dwelling in the region. If this is the case, why does he claim he is merely “a sojourner and foreigner”? Shouldn’t he have told his audience that he was taking up permanent residence among them?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe resolves this by understanding Abraham’s words to be more of a statement of spiritual identity. They remind us that we are merely sojourners in this physical world and naturally long for our true home. Although Abraham was a permanent resident of Canaan, he still considered himself to be a sojourner because he had not yet reached his final destination: the World to Come.

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