Sharing Our Grief, Burying Our Fears, Sitting Gently with the Land

Only the dead can truly own land, so the Jews cannot claim to 'own' the Temple Mount.

Reprinted by permission of the author from the December 2000 special issue of Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility.

"Now these are the days and the years of Avraham, which he lived: 100 years and 70 years and five years, then he expired. Yitzchak and Yishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Makhpela in the field thatAvraham had acquired There were buried Avraham and Sara his wife. Now itwas after Avraham's death, that God blessed Yitzhak his son. And Yitzhaksettled by the Well of the Living-One Who-Sees-Me"(Gen. 25: 7-8a, 9-11.)

On the eighth day of my life, I was named "Avraham Yitzchak"--"Abraham Isaac." On Rosh Hashanah, 1975, when we read in the Torah about the near-deaths of Abraham's two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, it came to me to add "Yishmael"--Ishmael--and thus to complete the troubled triangle.


Ever since, when the children of Ishmael and the children of Isaac tear at each other, I feel myself being torn apart.

So I take joy in the passage of Torah where these two come together to bury Abraham, and then live together at the same "well of seeing" that had saved Ishmael's life. For years, I have urged that we read it on Yom Kippur as a



--a way of healing or makin whole--a


(repentance) for the deadly Rosh Hashanah stories.


And not merely read. Today, all Israelis and Palestinians, all Jews and Arabs, might mourn together--not separately--the deaths of our children. If we see each other's tears, we may water a wellspring of seeing, a wellspring at which we can learn to live together.

And perhaps we learn not only to share our tears but to bury our fears. Perhaps the brothers had projected onto each other the fear they felt toward Abraham--but could not say aloud. So perhaps his death released them both to see each other's faces, rather than his frightening frown.

Today, what fears would have to die to release Israelis and Palestinians to see each other?

The passage mentions two places: a tomb and a well. What land does Abraham "acquire"? A grave. Only the dead can "own" land; the living simply sojourn on God's land, as Leviticus 25: 23 reminds us. If we the living give up our attachment to acquiring, we can sit calmly (

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