The Couple’s Cave | Parashat Chayei Sarah

Rabbi Uri Lam | Congregation Beth-El, Sao Paulo, Brazil

And so, when it will come to me later
Maybe death, the anguish of those who live
Maybe loneliness, the end of those who love
I can tell about the love (I lived):
That is not immortal, since it is flame
But let it be infinite while it lasts.

Vinícius de Moraes
This week the Torah speaks of love between Abraham and Sarah, a love of a lifetime. Just at the beginning of the parashah we meet ourselves with Sarah’s death and, at the end, we know Abraham’s death. The first couple of Israel was buried in Mearat Hamachpelah – The Cave of Doubles, which I mean as The Couples’ Cave. According to the Talmud (Bavli, Eruvin 53a) and Midrash Bereshit Raba, four couples were buried there: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rivka, Jacob and Lea. Centuries later, the tranquility of the place was disturbed by Rabbi Banaa.

One of the last rabbis of the Mishnah age and  one of the first Rabbis of the Gemarah age, Rabbi Banaa was responsible of marking the caves who served as cemeteries, in order to prevent people from being in contact with corpses. In the course of his work, Rabbi Banaa arrived at the Cave of the Machpela – the Couples’ Cave. Just at the entrance – which was a boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead – Rabbi Banaa met Eliezer, the faithful servant of Patriarch Abraham.

Rabbi Banaa started to talk to him: “Eliezer, great Eliezer, how long we don’t meet each other! And Abraham, how is he?” Eliezer replied: “He is involved in Sara’s arms, looking at her face.”

As not satisfied for invading the world of the dead, Rabbi Banaa is about to invade the intimacy of the first Hebrew couple. There are Abraham and Sarah, he involved in her arms, she looks at him with so much love and intimacy. Without realizing it, Rabbi Banna said to Eliezer: “Go and tell Abraham that Banaa is waiting for him at the [cave] entrance.” Abraham listened to the conversation and shouted from inside: “Let him come in! He knows there is no more yetzer into this world. ”

Rabbi Banaa entered the cave and kept walking, going deeper and deeper into the cave; so he arrived where Adam and Eve were buried. At this moment he heard the Bat Kol, the Divine Voice: “You have already discovered the likeness of My image; do not look at My own image! ”

Rabbi Banaa protested: “But I just want to measure the cave!”

The Bat Kol replied: “The outer dimensions are the same as the inner dimensions.” Rabbi Banaa: “But what if the Couples’ Cave is named after one floor below and one floor above?”

Bat Kol: “The dimensions above are equal to the dimensions below.”
(Bavli, Baba Batra 58a)

Anyway … as Rabbi Banaa met Eliezer “alive”, he decided to find other “people alive”, such as Abraham and Sarah. But the first Hebrew couple enjoys a quiet intimacy; they are in love and don’t feel invaded when there are visitors. After all, there is no yetzer (harah) into the spiritual world; as to say, there are no material desires – because there is no more material world for them! Abraham lies in the spiritual arms of Sara, who looks with enormous affection to him: the embrace of neshamot who love each other, forever.

For he who was responsible to find the right places for cemiteries, Rabbi Banaa finds life in its most loving state and decides to go deeper and deeper. If he found so much love between the first Hebrew couple, what could he find between the primordial couple, Adam and Eve? And between the other couples?

But the Bat Kol discourages him. He has nothing to do down there. Rabbi Banaa surpassed the first floor of the spiritual world and had a beautiful vision: the love between a couple who went through many challenges together during life. Rabbi Banaa has witnessed one of the greatest desires of who loves to love: to love eternally; the true iedid nefesh, the genuine souls’ love.

But Rabbi Banaa wanted to go further. He wanted to reach the essence of human life, the primordial Adam and Eve. What the Bat Kol tries to say to Rabbi Banaa is that it is not necessary to reach Adam and Eve: by hearing the love between Abraham and Sarah, he has already found the human essence. Because in the end of the day (or in the end of the life), after so many challenges, all that is material is gone, but love remains. Paraphrasing the Brazilian poet Vinícius de Moraes:

I can tell about the love (I live):
Let it be immortal, since it is flame
And if it is finite, let it endure.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ).