Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Throughout the lives of Avraham and Sara, G-d promises them two things again and again: myriad descendants and a land of their own. The promise of land is repeated not less than 7 times, and the promise of descendants is repeated 4 times. But, in actuality, when Sara passes on to the next world in this week’s Torah portion, Avraham does not yet possess even one square inch of land and his son Yitzchak is not yet married. G-d’s promises have not yet been fulfilled.
Rabbi Professor Jonathan Sacks says we should notice that Avraham is not sad and does not complain, but simply acts. (In this spirit, a sign posted in the yeshiva at 770 Eastern Parkway in New York reads: hama’aseh hu ha’ikar; action is the main thing.) Our parasha revolves around two stories that spotlight the actions of Avraham: the purchase of the Machpelah cave as a burial site for Sarah and the search for a wife for Yitzchak. G-d’s big promises only begin to take shape after Avraham exerts himself to bring them to fruition.
Israel is the Promised Land, but Avraham must personally negotiate a deal, in the here and now, in order to acquire the first piece of it. The descendants of Avraham will truly be “like stars in the sky” and “like sand on the seashore” someday but, for now, Avraham must concern himself with finding a bride for Yitzchak. That bride, Rivka, will help Yitzchak continue the mission started by his parents. G-d promises, but He delivers only after we join Him in the work that needs to be done.