I love boating along coastal British Columbia. Occasionally, we spot First Nation burial apparatus, a box or platform, often a canoe, into which the departed is placed and which is then perched upon high stilts or wedged into tree forks.
The Choctaws buried their dead by leaving them atop a high scaffold. Eskimos placed their departed beneath piles of rocks. In much of Asia, corpses were burned as a final rite and the popularity of cremation spread far and wide. Egyptians placed their departed in pyramids while others preferred vast above-ground mausoleums.
When Sarah, the wife of Abraham died, Abraham didn’t place her body in a tree or under a heap of rocks. He certainly didn’t burn it. Instead, he said to the locals:
…entreat for me to Ephron the son of Tzochar…that he give me the cave of MaCHPeLah…as a burying place…
The first Scriptural account of a burial follows:
…Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of MaCHPeLah…
Later we read about the burial of Abraham.
And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of MaCHPeLah, in the field of Ephron the son of Tzochar…
Subsequently, Isaac and his wife Rebecca were buried in that cave, as were Jacob and Leah.
When Abraham negotiated his purchase of the cave from Ephron the son of Tzochar, it was only the second mention of a cave in the Bible. The first was the cave in which Lot and his two daughters sought refuge as Sodom was being destroyed.
Lot went up out of Tzoar…and his two daughters…and he lived in a cave, he and his two daughters.
Not only did Abraham choose to place his kin to rest in the same kind of location as the one in which Lot and his daughters took refuge but the name of the father of the seller of Abraham’s cave, TzoCHaR, strongly resembles the town from which Lot departed for the cave, TzoAR.
Tz-o-A-R and Tz-o-CH-a-R share their first and last letters, tzadi and reish, which respectively have the sounds of TZ and R.
In God’s language, where each letter and word has vast hidden meaning, words that start and end with these letters relate to the concept of narrowness, confinement, pain and restriction.
Lot and his daughters stopped in a place named for having the quality of TzAR as they escaped Sodom (Genesis 19:20-23), but leave it for the promise of a cave. Abraham acquired a cave from the possession of a man called TzochaR, expanding its quality from simply being a cave to becoming an eternal burial place. What is going on here?
Both caves served as temporary abodes while future events took shape. In one cave, Lot and one of his daughters lay the foundations for the eventual birth of Ruth, ancestress of King David. In the other cave, the founding fathers and mothers of Israel lie until the ultimate redemption when death is undone and eternal life is resumed.
Similar meaning of future promise attaches to all other Biblical caves such as that in which David did not kill Saul (I Samuel 24:6-7), in which Obadiah hid the prophets from Jezebel (I Kings 18:4) and in which Elijah hid (I Kings 19:9). Not surprisingly, the root meaning of the Hebrew word cave, MeARah, is awaken!
מ ע ר ה = cave
ע ר = awake
As a seed is placed in the ground only in anticipation of the green living plant that will eventually spring forth, so do people enter Biblical caves. In ancient Jewish wisdom, a grave is no more than a personal private cave in which to await the ultimate deliverance.
Reprinted from 2013