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Chayei Sarah: Abraham’s Coins and Unifying Light and Darkness

“She laughed at herself saying, ‘Now that I am withered, shall my skin become smooth?! Besides my husband is old.”

 

The first five parashot of the Torah correspond to the first five verses in the Torah, which make up the account of the first day of creation:

  • “In the beginning…” corresponds with parashat Breishit.
  • “And the earth was chaotic and void” to Noach and the flood. Noah’s ark navigating the floodwaters is alluded to by the words, “the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
  • In the third verse, light is created alluding to Abraham and his faith in God, which is told in the Lech Lecha.
  • The fourth verse, which corresponds to parashat Vayeira, describes how “God separated between the light and the darkness,” a clear reference to the separation between Sarah and her son Isaac and Hagar and her son Yishmael.
  • The fifth and final verse of the first day, “God called the light ‘day’ and the darkness he named ‘night’; it was evening, and it was morning—one day” corresponds to our parashah, Chayei Sarah.

Let us delve deeper into this fifth correspondence.

Sovereign Coins

From a bird’s eye view, parashat Chayei Sarah describes how the crown of kingship is transferred from Abraham and Sarah, the two elders, to Isaac and Rebeccah. One of the traits of a lawful king is that he mints coins that are accepted and used by the people he is sovereign over.[1] As the first lawful king accepted by the people around him,[2] Abraham minted a coin. On Abraham’s coin there were the figures of an elderly man and woman on one side and on the other side there appeared the shape of a young man and woman (perhaps suggesting that coins are good for shidduchim, for matchmaking). The elderly couple represented Abraham and Sarah, who are described in the Torah as, “And Abraham and Sarah were of old age”[3] (וְאַבְרָהָם וְשָׂרָה זְקֵנִים בָּאִים בַּיָּמִים). The young man and woman were meant to represent Isaac and Rebeccah, who inherited Abraham and Sarah.

In the first reading of Chayei Sarah, we learn that Abraham used his sovereign coins to purchase the field of the Machpelah and the cave in it from Ephron the Hittite. Abraham paid the amount of 400 units of silver (which were minted as 4 coins, each weighing 100 silver units) to Ephron. What was novel about these coins was that they were trusted to contain the amount of silver. This is the sign of a true sovereign who can ensure that his coins contain the exact weight they denominate. The Torah describes these sovereign coins as “transferable by merchants” (עוֹבֵר לַסּוֹחֵר).[4]

The Good Part

By placing himself and Sarah on one side of his coins and Isaac and Rebeccah on the other, Abraham was declaring that the crown and the scepter of his sovereignty would be passed to them. In the Torah’s fifth verse, this passage is alluded to in the words, “It was evening, and it was morning; one day.” Abraham himself is called “one”: “Abraham was one” (אֶחָד הָיָה אַבְרָהָם). Isaac is referred to as “the singular one”: “Take your son, your singular son, whom you love” (קַח אֶת בִּנְךָ אֶת יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר אָהַבְתָּ).[6] The one is drawn into the singular. Abraham is one, but Isaac is “singular,” your only son, as he is called.

This transfer of sovereignty from one side of the coin to the other parallels the Torah’s fifth verse, which joins the light and the darkness together. In the fourth verse, God separated the darkness from the light because he saw that the light was good, implying that the darkness was not. But in the fifth verse, the light is not described as good and hence there is no longer an implication that darkness is entirely negative, rather God just gives the light and the darkness names: day and night. The fifth verse implies that both light and darkness are needed and that they must be united. This unification alludes to the change of the guard between generations often alluded to with the verse, “And the sun set, and the sun rose”[7] (וּבָא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְזָרַח הַשָּׁמֶשׁ).

(Excerpted from a lecture given by Rabbi Ginsburgh on 21st of Cheshvan 5772)

[1]. Hilchot Gezeilah 5:18. See also Gra on Choshen Mishpat 369:2 who cites Megillah 14b as a source for this halachah.

[2]. Rashi on Genesis 14:17 (based on Midrash Rabbah 43:5).

[3]. Genesis 18:11. The value of this phrase is the same as (Zechariah 14:9) “On that day, God will be one and His Name will be one” (בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִהְיֶה י-הוה אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד).

[4]. The two words “transferable” and “merchant” both allude to the crown in the soul, or the yechidah, the singular one, which is the soul’s highest level. Both words refer to something that is above and beyond. Transferable (עוֹבֵר) is a clear allusion to that which lies beyond. The Hebrew word for merchant (סוֹחֵר), literally means “one who goes round and round,” alluding to the surrounding light that is above and beyond the conscious powers of the soul. The soul’s two higher levels, chayah and yechidah are both surrounding lights, or powers. The chayah is known as the near surrounding light and the yechidah, also known as the crown, lies beyond the chayah and is called the distant surrounding light.

[6]. This is also the first mention of love in the Torah and all subsequent loves stem from it. From Abraham and Isaac love then journeys from Isaac to his wife Rebeccah. In all, love makes 42 journeys in the Torah, corresponding to the 42 journeys of the Israelites through the wilderness, a topic explored in our article, “42 Journeys of Love” in Sha’arei Ahavah VeRatzon.

[7]. Ecclesiastes 1:5.

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