In early November of 1626, Pieter Schage told his superiors at the West India Company of the purchase of Manhattan Island from the Lenape tribe for 60 guilders. This is one of the foundational moments in American history, setting the stage for what this country would one day become. Similarly in Jewish history, the sale of the field and the cave of Mahpelah to Abraham for four hundred silver shekels in this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, is a seminal moment. This ancient deed laid out in the Torah is our first real stake in the land that would become our homeland. It is also the start of our people’s deep commitment to honoring our dead. This particular purchase was made with one thing in mind, to bury Abraham’s wife Sarah and to create a family plot that would extend through the generations.
Abraham does what none of us should - he waits until after Sarah’s death to make the arrangements. Because of his action, or perhaps his inaction, it a Jewish community’s obligation to purchase cemetery plots as soon as we arrive in a new place. As death can come at any moment, we must be prepared for all eventualities. And, unlike our forbearer Abraham, we are blessed today with funeral homes that do all of the work for us. In fact in Buffalo we are doubly blessed, with two amazing homes - both family owned and operated, both of whom understand all the intricacies of Jewish burial customs - Amherst Memorial Chapel and Mesnekoff Funeral Home. This is one area where we should not use Abraham and Sarah as examples. In doing so, your family will have clear guidance on how you want to be remembered and you will have peace of mind.