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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Buying land in The Land

Posted by rabbiart on November 20, 2008

The alert reader (that means all of us, right?) will immediately notice the strange opening of our Parshah.  It is titled חַיֵּי שָׂרָה (hayei sarah – Sarah’s life), but it really begins with Sarah’s death. Her husband, Avraham, mourns and weeps for her, and only then goes to find a place where she can be buried. We are more accustomed to a grieving process where burial takes place first – and immediately – and is followed by mourning and grieving.

Another famous negotiation takes place, this time over the purchase of a burial plot that remains with us to this day. According  to Speiser (The Anchor Bible – Genesis) Avraham is a resident alien and thus not allowed to purchase land. (Sound familiar?)  Once again, we see how the Torah contains and foreshadows everything in human experience.  Avraham is the first Jewish (loosely speaking, as the term had not yet come into parlance) to ארץ ישראל  (aretz yisrael – The Land of Israel).  He seeks to acquire clear legal title to the land. Some 2000 years later, the first Zionist settlers come back to The Land, and again go through the process of acquiring legal title from the then current landowners. For some strange reason, their efforts do not go as smoothly as did Avraham’s, but that is a different discussion.

Speiser explains that Avraham’s purchase is a multi-leveled transaction.  He must first get permission from the local government (those who sit at the gate, see verse 10), and only then can he attempt a transaction with Ephron.  Ephron extracts an exorbitant price, to be sure.  According to Rashi, Ephron rose in status with the local elders, because Avraham needed to buy his land.

Avraham has (perhaps) been revealed to have serious negotiating skills. After all, didn’t he bargain with HaShem over the innocent and guilty of Sodom and Gemorrah?   On the one hand, he refuses the offer of burial land by way of gift, on the other hand he pays an exorbitant price. Why does he accept without question Ephron’s price for a gravesite? One possible conclusion we might make: Once again, the miracle of how our ancient text speaks directly to our lives is revealed.  Don’t wait until you really need them to buy funeral plots and make arrangements for burials.

דבר אחר (davar acher – an  interpretation that is different).  Note that in verse six the local inhabitants offer for all of Avraham’s “dead” to be buried in any of their graves.  What might it have meant had Avraham accepted this offer?   They say:

נְשִׂיא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה בְּתוֹכֵנוּ– בְּמִבְחַר קְבָרֵינוּ, קְבֹר אֶת-מֵתֶךָ; אִישׁ מִמֶּנּוּ, אֶת-קִבְרוֹ לֹא-יִכְלֶה מִמְּךָ מִקְּבֹר מֵתֶךָ

a prince of elohim you are among us — in your choice of our grave sites, any one of us – his gravesites he would not withhold from you – to bury your dead

How might the lives of Avraham and the Hittites been intertwined had Avraham accepted this offer? Shall we allow this text to think about how the lives of Israelis and Palestinians – Jews and Arabs – might be intertwined in our time had Avraham chosen a different course, and that model something that both peoples of these people (who of course share these stories) were able to follow?

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One Response to “Buying land in The Land”

  1. Hi. I am a long time reader. I wanted to say that I like your blog and the layout.

    Peter Quinn

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