Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 15 November 2014 / 22 Heshvan 5775

Parshat Chayei Sara

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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The Parsha begins with Sara’s death and Avraham’s successful purchase of a burial plot for her. Abarbanel is puzzled by both the necessity of the Torah to go into a detailed description of the transaction as well as the unusual tact taken by Avraham to effect the purchase of the burial plot. Avraham knows prophetically that the Machpelah Cave was the burial place of Adam and Chava and that it would be so for himself as well as for Yitzchak, Yaakov and their wives. Avraham was certain that if Ephron, the owner of the field in which the cave was located, knew of its significance, he would never consider parting with such an important piece of property. As a result, Avraham devised a strategy that would insure his obtaining permanent ownership of the plot.

Instead of dealing with Ephron directly, he makes his wishes known to the Bnei Chet, the townspeople, and asks them to intercede on his behalf with Ephron. The townspeople had enormous respect for Avraham and Sarah and indicated that “You are a prince of G-d in our midst; in the choicest of our burial places bury your dead; none of us will withhold his burial place from you, from burying your dead.” Avraham calculated that Ephron would not embarrass himself publicly by contradicting this sweeping promise. Additionally, when Avraham made his initial request from the Bnei Chet he did not mention that he intended to pay full price. He only mentioned this when he asked them to intercede for him to purchase Ephron’s land: “Let him grant it to me for its full price, in your midst, as an estate for a burial place.”

Ephron responds, within earshot of the Bnei Chet, that he had already decided to give Avraham both the cave and the surrounding field as a gift. Clearly not trusting Ephron, Avraham makes it clear that he never had any intention of accepting it as a gift but that he always had in mind to guarantee his possession not only by purchasing it but by giving the money to Ephron prior to the burial. Once Ephron sees that Avraham intends to pay for it, instead of just naming the price — four hundred pure talents of silver — he curiously responds, “Land worth four hundred silver shekels; between me and you — what is it? Bury your dead.” Again, Ephron is trying to give himself an opening to back out of the transaction. He wants Avraham to bury Sarah first, before receiving any payment. He can then maintain his possession after the burial is complete. Avraham sees through this ruse as well and insists that he will pay that price, (which may have been what Ephron himself had paid for it, or its actual market value, or it may have been a grossly inflated price since Ephron saw how anxious Avraham was to complete the transaction), prior to the burial. Also, in order that Ephron shouldn’t delay further by counting and weighing the silver, Avraham handed it over to the city’s merchants who could immediately make the proper evaluation. The Torah then makes it clear that he acquired both the cave and its adjacent fields and that the entire transaction was witnessed by the gathering of the Bnei Chet.

The final two verses of this section seem to be repetitious, but they allude to two important points. “And afterwards Avraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah…which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan…The field with its cave was confirmed as Avraham’s as an estate for a burial site from the children of Chet.” Firstly, the repetition of ‘Hebron’ and ‘Canaan’ tells us that this is the burial place of Adam and Chava in the holy land of Canaan. Secondly, besides taking possession through the transfer of money, Avraham also took possession through the concept of ‘chazaka’ which is essentially creating a situation of ‘facts on the ground’ which is recognized by the entire population. By stating ‘from the children of Chet’ rather than ‘from the children of Ephron’, the Torah is emphasizing that the entire population recognized Avraham’s solid and permanent claim to the burial site.

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