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Parsha Chayei Sarah

"Avraham heeded Ephron, and Avraham weighed out to Ephron the price which he had mentioned in the hearing of the children of Cheis, four hundred silver shekels in negotiable currency" (23:16)

The negotiations between Avraham and Ephron in regards to acquiring the field of the Machpeilah require further elaboration. Ephron offers as a gift the field that Avraham seeks, to which Avraham responds that he would rather purchase the field. Ephron then states, "Four hundred shekel between me and you; what is it?" Our Sages comment that, in fact, Avraham paid four hundred shekel of international currency which was a much larger sum than the four hundred shekel of local currency originally mentioned by Ephron. Why is Ephron insistent that the land should be a gift? Why does Avraham refuse to accept the gift, to the extent that he is even willing to pay an exorbitant purchase price?

The Talmud notes that at the completion of the transaction, Ephron's name is spelled with a letter missing because "he promised much and did not even perform a little". This notion appears to be clear from the story line. Ephron originally offers the field for free, yet he eventually requires Avraham to pay an excessive purchase price. Why does the Torah have to indicate Ephron's lack of integrity by recording his name defectively?

Our Sages must be teaching us that Ephron truly meant to give Avraham the field as a present. It would be Ephron's greatest accomplishment to have a family of Avraham's status buried in his field. Bequeathing his field as a gift to Avraham would place Ephron's name in the annals of history for posterity; the Patriarchs and Matriarchs would be buried in the garden donated by Ephron the Hittite. When he realizes that Avraham refuses to allow such an occurrence, but would rather pay, thereby eliminating any chance for Ephron to gain name recognition, he requires that Avraham pay an exorbitant price for the field. Commitments made by the wicked are motivated purely by personal gain. Therefore, they may, in fact, be sincere. However, when they realize that there is no benefit to them, they have no compunction in abrogating their commitments. The Torah reflects this character flaw by recording his name defectively for it was his aspiration for name recognition that was fueling his magnanimity.

Rabbi Mordechai Shifman.

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Weekly Torah Portion - Meaning of Avraham purchase by Rabbi Mordechai Shifman