Chayei Sarah: In this world, we’re all just passing through
In this world, we’re all only passing through. The commencement of Parshat Chayei Sara provides the sad details of the burial arrangements for Sara carried out by Avraham. Presenting himself before the Bnei Cheit, the children of Cheit and inhabitants of Canaan, Abraham introduced himself by saying (Bereishit 23:4),
“Ger vetoshav anochi imachem,” – “I am a stranger and a resident in your midst.”
Isn’t this the sad reality that repeats itself again and again throughout Jewish history? That Jewish people, having moved to a particular place, even though they might have lived there for a long time, are still considered the ‘ger’ – the outsider?
The Dubno Maggid gives added depth to this statement by Abraham. Abraham said, “Ger vetoshav anochi imachem,” – “A stranger,” – that’s me, I’m the stranger – “and a permanent resident,” – you are the permanent residents.
Abraham here was describing why it was important for him to have a choice piece of land with which to bury his wife. He was saying, “Your world view is so different from mine. As far as you’re concerned, in this world you are permanent residents because you believe that you’re not going anywhere else from here. But as far as I am concerned, I am only a temporary resident here. I’m a visitor on earth.” That’s why in tradition we call our cemeteries ‘beit hachaim’ – the home of the living – or ‘beit olam’ – the home of those who exist forever. That’s something that Abraham appreciated and that’s why he wanted to bury his wife appropriately.
There’s a story about a man who travelled through many countries in Europe in order to reach Radin, a town in Belarus of today, where the Chofetz Chaim used to live. He had the privilege of being able to meet the Chofetz Chaim and discuss some issues with him. When he was brought into the Chofetz Chaim’s home he noticed how modest it was, in fact the Chofetz Chaim found it difficult to find a chair for the man to sit on.
This visitor asked the Chofetz Chaim,
“Why don’t you have much furniture here?”
The Chofetz Chaim replied to the traveller,
“Tell me – while travelling through Europe to see me, did you bring your lounge furniture with you?”
“No,” said the man, “I’m only passing through.”
“Me too,” said the Chofetz Chaim, “I’m only passing through this world, until I reach the next.”
This was the message that Abraham was giving to the Canaanites, and it brings us a lot of reassurance. We should never fear what is going to happen to us once our physical lives on earth end, because we’re only passing through. As we are taught in Pirkei Avot, this world is the passageway which leads towards the great banqueting hall which is waiting for us.
But in the meantime, let’s perform as many mitzvot as possible; let’s build up credit through the merit of our deeds, in order to guarantee that in the course of time – we’re not rushing – we will benefit from God’s full blessing in the true and everlasting world.