Chayei Sarah – A Resident Stranger
Our Torah portion includes the deaths of both Sarah and Abraham, the former at the very start of the reading and the latter at its end. In times of challenge a person’s true character often shows through, and there are subtle hints to Abraham’s inner turmoil that are reflected during his grief over Sarah’s death.
Abraham rose from his initial grief and began to seek arrangements to deal with the burial of Sarah. He wanted Sarah to have a dignified place of rest, and he identified the cave in the field of Efron the Hittite as the ideal location. Abraham approached the Hittite people and said: “A stranger and a resident I am among you, give me the possession of a burial place in your midst so I can bury my dead from before me.” (Genesis 23:4)
Abraham’s introduction of himself is intriguing as well as confusing. His words, “I am a stranger and a resident among you,” give conflicting descriptions of his relationship to them. In our vernacular a resident is no stranger; a resident is someone who has established himself in a society for an extended period of time. Yet Abraham, while acknowledging his long-time residency, calls himself a stranger in their midst. Some commentaries interpret resident differently, translating the word as sojourner, implying that Abraham had indeed not set any roots in that place and was therefore still a stranger. It is also reasonable to view Abraham’s words as an expression of his humility before the indigenous population, making no presumption of ownership in the region. But the most simple meaning of the word remains indicative of a greater permanence.
Rabbi Soloveitchik understands Abraham’s words as conflicting, and he explains that they express the dichotomy with which Abraham lived his life. Abraham was the quintessential resident stranger, one who lived his life within a society but remained apart from that society. Abraham dug wells on behalf of the local tribes. He paid his taxes, participated