Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Parshat Chayei Sarah Remove Formatting from selection

A Stranger and a Sojourner

Despite being promised by God: “all the land that you see I will give to you…” (Bereshit 13:15), Avraham is a “stranger and a sojourner “ (ibid 23:4) and has no place to bury his wife. Therefore, he begins negotiations with the Hittites in order to secure a burial plot.

The first two negotiations end with Avraham bowing low (ibid 7 & 12), the modern equivalent of a handshake and partial success. The third rounds ends with complete success. We will examine these negotiations:

The root Shema (“listen” or “understand”) appears 6 times in this short narrative. The Hittites were not listening to Avraham or at least they misunderstood him

The First Negotiation (ibid 3-7)

Avraham asks to buy a burial plot. The Hittites respect Avraham and consider him to be “Prince of God” (ibid 6), a spiritual leader of the highest pedigree. Is he really interested in owning land or does he merely need a place to bury his wife? They think the latter.

Therefore, rather than requiring him to purchase land they tell him “in the most desired of our tombs you can bury your dead. None of us will withhold his tomb from you” (ibid). The Hittites misunderstood Avraham’s need to own the plot. Instead, they offer him a space wherever he so desires. Avraham thanks them; he has been partially successful.

The Second Negotiation (ibid 8-12)

Avraham requests a meeting with Ephron ben Zochar, so that he can purchase a specific plot: The Meorat HaMachpela. Ephron, tells Avraham: “Listen to me. I have given you the field, and the cave that is in it… bury your dead" (ibid 11). He too, does not seem to understand Avraham’s need to own the land. Avraham thanks him He has now secured the actual plot, but is still not satisfied: he wants unreserved ownership.

The Third Negotiation (ibid 13-16)

Avraham is well aware that a gift of land would have a questionable legal status and so he continues negotiating, insisting on a purchase: “Listen to me, I am giving money for the field” (ibid 13). Ephron then names his price: “four hundred shekels of silver, what is it between me and you?” (ibid 15) and Avraham makes the remuneration.

Avraham ensures that all was done “before the eyes (or ears) of the Hittites” (ibid 10, 11, 16 & 18) and at the gates of the city, the commercial and legal center. The deed of sale is then recorded and witnessed (ibid 17-18). The ownership of the plot could never be contested.

Religions are often considered to be the realm of the spirit. Material assets such as land should not be of concern to the truly spiritual person. Judaism however, is different; it is not an ascetic religion. It believes in nourishing the body. So too, the Land of Israel is an integral part of its identity. They cannot be separated.


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