Chayei Sarah: An Eternal Rest in the Land

[This week’s dvar Torah is slightly longer than most; please read till the end, a request I generally do not preface the dvar Torah with, but this week, it is important that I do so.]

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Chayei Sarah, Sarah Imainu, the first eishes chayil, dies at the age of 127 years.  The pasuk tells us that Avraham comes to mourn for Sarah and to cry for her.   And then, after negotiating with the people of the land, Avraham Avinu purchases the Me’aras Ha’Machpela for 400 silver shekels.  Sarah is buried in the Cave of Machpela, which is in Chevron, in the Land of Canaan (see Bereishis 23).

And thus begins our connection through burial with the Holy Land, a connection that will never be severed until the end of time.

Though we may wander from land to land and place to place, with hope in our hearts and a prayer on our lips, we long to return in peace to the Land – where our people live, and die. 

Sarah’s death, and subsequent burial, in the Holy Land, began a long tradition where the people of the Land return to the Land…

July 2014 – They arrived by the thousands for Max Steinberg’s funeral. In flip-flops and tank tops, dressed in youth movement uniforms and army unit T-shirts, with yarmulkes and hats, bareheaded and with sunglasses, they filed in to the cemetery at Mount Herzl, standing in uncharacteristic silence under the hot sun to pay their respects

“We’re here to give the family the feeling that we’re with them,” said a Jerusalemite who came with two friends. “They should feel that we’re holding them.”  “He’s a lone soldier,” said another local. “He’s part of us.”

It was the sentiment voiced by everyone who spoke at the hour-and-a-half-long funeral.

Steinberg, 24, a sharpshooter in the Golani Brigade, was one of 13 soldiers killed on day 13 of Operation Protective Edge, in heavy fighting in Gaza City.  He was a volunteer in the IDF, a designated lone soldier who hailed from Woodland Hills, California; who didn’t speak much Hebrew after less than a year in the army.

His parents — each speaking, in English, a few sentences at a time — made it clear that they didn’t regret his decision to join the army and to serve in a combat unit.

“I want to answer a question that’s on the mind of many people,” said his father, Stuart Steinberg, “about whether we regret letting him go, and to give an unequivocal no.”

Evie Steinberg described her son’s childhood in suburban California, his surprising strength despite his small stature, his love of soccer and football, his quick, fast moves. It was his younger brother and sister, Jake and Paige, who convinced Max to join them on a Birthright trip, but it was Max who ended up in Israel, something he hadn’t expected, she said.

“He connected to Israel in a way he couldn’t have imagined,” said Evie Steinberg…The police confirmed that in fact, 30,000 people had come to the funeral of this lone soldier.

Monday evening (of this week) my husband and I were zocheh to once again visit the vibrant candy and chocolate store situated at the corner of Rechov Agripas and the back entrance to the Machaneh Yehudah Shuk.  If you have never been, I recommend you go.  How beautiful, alive, vibrant, colorful, well-stocked, full of shoppers, tantalizing and inviting this wonderful store is.  The longer you stay there, the more you buy.  The colors, sights, scents and people (and tastes!) invite you in to this wonderful shop…

And there, over the register, in stark contrast to the life of the store, is a plaque that tells of the murder of Shimon Chaim ben Cazali HY”D, the father of a 3 month old baby boy.  The plaque reads:

לזכרון עולם פה במקום הזה

(In eternal remembrance, here in this place)

נהרג בנינו היקר

(was killed our dear son)

שמעון חיים בן כזאלי

אב לתינוק בן 3 חודשים

(father to a 3 month old baby boy)

בפיצוץ שהוטמן ע״י מחבלים אכזרים מצפון

(in an attack carried out by cruel terrorists from the north)

ביום כ״ד סיון תשל״ה השם ינקום דמו


This has been our third time visiting this store in as many years, B”H…

Over the visits, the proprietors have told us that Shimon Chaim ben Cazali was their brother; he was 23 years old at the time of the attack; the attack was in the location where the store stands today; his 3 month old baby is now a 38 year old man; the attack was on the day of his younger brother’s Bar Mitzvah; their sister has a daughter in the army; they carry a picture of Shimon Chaim in their wallet (which they showed me for the first time this week); the plaque reminds the shoppers that he lived.

I am not sure how many shoppers ask them about the plaque, though we speak to them every time we go.  Last January they gave our daughter chocolates, this time they gave me chocolate.  They asked if I wanted Badatz or Rabbanut, Parve or Chalavi, made in Israel or Chutz La’Aretz (no contest there).  I told them I don’t want presents – only to hear about their brother and remember.  They gave me the chocolate anyway, and sent home foil-wrapped heart shaped chocolate for our daughter, who took a picture with them last year.

Jews from different worlds, different languages (we spoke together in Ivrit), different stories, different hashkafot (they do not wear kippot), different lives… Different and yet, very much the same.

I told them (and reiterate each time I visit) that I have spoken of their brother in my classes, and b’ezrat Hashem will continue to do so.  They told me that they are very moved. 

I told them יש לנו הרבה שאלות, אבל אין לנו תשובות – we have many questions that do not have answers.  They nodded in agreement.  I told them that I hope we will be back again, sooner, rather than later, and my “brothers”, with their bare heads, answered twice: בעזרת השם.

If I accomplished nothing else in this uplifting week in Eretz Yisrael, it was worth coming to give nechama to a family who remembers, and mourns their loss, thirty-eight years later.

וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים–שְׁנֵי, חַיֵּי שָׂרָה – And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah;

וַתָּמָת שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְיַת אַרְבַּע הִוא חֶבְרוֹן–בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן; וַיָּבֹא, אַבְרָהָם, לִסְפֹּד לְשָׂרָה, וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ – And Sarah died in Kiryat Arbah which is Chevron, in the land of Canaan; and Avraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her (Bereishis 23:1-2).

The first Jew to live, die and be buried in the Holy Land… The first Jew to be mourned, remembered and cried for in the Holy Land… The first Jew of many.  The Land connects us, cries with us, mourns for us, and takes us back home when life is no longer.

So next time you are in the fabulous candy store on Rechov Agripas, look up at the plaque over the register, and remember your brother who fell because he was a Jew in the Land.

עם דמעות וכאב בלב

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,


1 Comment
  • Carol Novoseller
    Posted at 05:10h, 27 November

    Hope Michal,

    Once again, it was an absolute honor to meet you and to be able to sit in, in person to your shiurim. I trust that the rest of your visit was as meaningful as the beginning. We thought of your son, at OJ. How is he managing with the tragic fire. How does one go about signing up for the above weekly emails? We’d be most appreciative to receive them. We share them with the whole family. Besorot tovot,

    Carol Novoseller