"...and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the hearing of the children of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant." (Genesis 23:16)
Why does the Torah so carefully describe Avraham's purchase of the field and cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite? What is the Torah's understanding of kinyan - the act of purchasing or achieving ownership of something?
The Torah takes pains to ensure that this written documentation of the monetary transaction exists in order to be held up before the nations, if they (in disregard of the Divine promise to Avraham) should ever claim that Israel "stole" the land from its original inhabitants. Lo and behold, this is precisely what is transpiring today, as the nations demand that the people of Israel "return" the land of Israel to the Palestinians, the "original" inhabitants, according to the Palestinian "nationhood" myth, so successfully promoted in recent years.
But G-d's promise to Avraham is itself recorded by Torah. Why would Torah seek to bolster the veracity of a Divine promise by recording the passing between hands of four hundred shekels of silver? What we are witness to in the account of Avraham's purchase of the Machpelah from Ephron, is not G-d's promise to Avraham, but Avraham conducting himself in such a way as to realize the Divine promise, and begin to take possession of the land. True enough, Avraham's careful negotiation with Ephron, in the presence of witnesses, and his deliberate counting out of the four hundred shekels was intended to provide an irrefutable testimony to Avraham's purchase of the cave for a burial place for his wife Sara. But money alone does not effect possession of the holy land of Israel.
Midrash helps to shed light upon what is happening behind the scenes. We are told that Avraham first wandered into the field of Machpelah while chasing after the runaway calf he was determined to slaughter and prepare for his three surprise visitors to eat (ibid 18:7). Once in the field he noticed a light emanating from the cave and with it a compellingly beautiful aroma. He entered the cave and discovered the source of the light and the fragrance: the Garden of Eden.
It is no coincidence that Avraham made this discovery while pursuing the performance of an act of chesed - loving kindness: preparing a meal for three hungry wayfarers. For when we begin to occupy ourselves fully with the performance of G-d's commands, we begin to shed our own hubris. By dimming the spotlight that we normally shine upon our own ego-fed "needs" and exaggerated sense of self worth, we begin to see the world around us as never before. Suddenly a simple field and a lowly cave become a portal and a passage, connecting us to the eternal.
Ephron the Hittite had little regard for the field and cave he had title to. For him it was of negligible value, and he happily accepted Avraham's offer of four hundred shekels of silver in return for the Machpelah. For Avraham and for his children, this would be the first act in taking true possession of the land of Israel. For the land that G-d promised him is nothing less than a portal and a passage, tying fast the heavens to the earth. Those who don't see the light, or pick up the scent of this eternal truth, will time and time again undervalue this land, letting it slip through their fingers for a few talents of silver.
Join Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven on this week's TEMPLE TALK, as they discuss the Torah reading of Chayei Sara, the purchase of the cave of Machpelah, and the trials of Yitzchak and Rivka - Isaac and Rebeccah. Listen to what they have to say to President Bush concerning the Temple Mount and its eternal connection to the nation of Israel.
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