to Ponder Number 96
In trying to obtain a piece
of land to bury Sara, Avraham gets heavily involved in lengthy negotiations
(Bereshith, chapter 23). After he has turned to the children of Chet,
he asks them to speak to Efron the son of Tzohar who is the owner
of the Cave of Machpela. It is in this cave that he would like to
bury his dear wife Sara.
The commentators carefully
examined every part of these negotiations and suggested a great amount
of explanations in order to understand what they were all about. There
are those who suggest that Avraham refused to receive this piece of
land as a gift because he realized that the children of Chet wanted
him and his family to become part of their culture, in other words
to assimilate and become one of them.
Others maintain that Avraham
wanted to impress on all those present that one day, in the messianic
times, the dead will arise (techiyath hametim) and that therefore
a burial place should hold the bones of the deceased for eternity.
Such a place could therefore never be touched or ploughed. Efron does
not believe in all of this and suggests that he could easily give
the land to him since after several years they would clean the land
of all the old bones and the land could again be used for agriculture
by the original owner. He, therefore, would not really lose the land
by giving it to Avraham for a few years. It was just a temporary arrangement.
There may however be another
reason why Avraham was not easily satisfied with the circumstances
under which he could become the owner of the land. It may quite well
have been Efron's intentions never to give or sell the cave
to Avraham. Avraham realized that all the diplomatic talk of Efron
and his generous offer to give him the land without any monetary compensation
was nothing else but a clever way to refuse any such deal. Even when
Efron actually asked for money, it was never his intention to really
sell it to him.
We need to examine Efron's
position before and after the negotiations.
However to Efron's great sorrow, Avraham accepts his suggestion and is prepared to pay the full price in cash. Having no other option Efron is forced to accept it. But it undermines his very intention. No longer will he enjoy his earlier position and within hours his "finest hour" will be over. The children of Chet will go home, Avraham buries Sara and Efron's name will no longer be on the lips of the many. His role as a leader and a "tough" negotiator of "world wide fame" has come to an end. Nothing could be worse.
In case our interpretation
is correct, we would suggest that the Torah comes to warn us that
we should never forget that in confronting our enemies some may not
be at all interested in peace even when they call for it. After all,
they realize that once they have negotiated a real peace, their names
will no longer be on the lips of millions of people, will fall into
oblivion and they will have had their day. No longer will they appear
on the front page of many international papers or on television. To
them that is the greatest curse. Better to keep a conflict going,
even at the cost of lives, rather than having to live with the knowledge
that one no longer plays any role in world events.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
*The famous gentile Bible scholar E. A. Speiser states that for this sum Avraham could have bought a whole village! (Anchor Bible, Genesis, p.171.)
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