Following are some of the ideas, insights and interpretations that emerge from our weekly Chumash learning group at the Young Israel of Oceanside, Long Island. We cite sources when possible. Some of our interpretations derive from ideas we may have seen elsewhere, possibly without attribution. Or we may simply have forgotten the source. For this we apologize. We invite your comments, observations and participation.[/b][/u]
M Topics: From Mourning to Marriage: Mourning, Money, Machpelah, Manners, Marriage… Death, Purchase of Family Tomb and Burial of Sarah… Finding a Wife for Yitzchak … Rivkah and Yitzchak Meet and Marry…Avraham’s Final Days
Hashem is here …Hashem is there…
Although His involvement is not mentioned anywhere in the entire Parsha, the Torah’s message remains (as it does throughout the Book of Bereshis) that G-d remains in the background influencing all human behavior.
A Primer on Negotiations
Avraham searches for a suitable burial spot for his recently-deceased wife Sarah in the land of Canaan. There is dialogue between him, the local Heth residents (Hittites) and one Efron the son of Zohar.
Some feel that Avraham was too self-effacing in his negotiations. Benno Jacob, on the other hand, sees Avraham behaving with dignity and refinement rather than with submisseveness. It is beneath his dignity to obsequiously refer to himself as a servant each time they refer to him as “my lord”. Avraham acknowledges his legal position as “a stranger and sojourner among you”: therefore, he has none of the property rights available to the residents. Terms like buying and selling are not used in this incident: gentlemen do not transact business but discuss giving each other presents .The local pagan Hittites respectfully call him “a prince of G-D”, in recognition of his unique but strange and separate beliefs and behavior --yet feel warmly and respectfully towards him to consider him “in our midst”. Avraham bows down to the Hittites in acknowledgement of and thanks for their offer to allow Sarah’s burial in even the choicest of graves. Avraham wants a particular cave and asks the people to contact Efron its owner so that Efron will “give” him the Maaras Hamachpelah (cave) for “a full price” (no discount) as a “possession in your midst”. Up until that point the Hittites considered Avraham a wanderer and occasional visitor, but now perhaps begin to understand what Avraham wants is something physical to permanently own.
Efron, who happens to be sitting in the crowd, announces--using the word “give” three times in one sentence -- that he has given not only the cave at the end of the field but also the field. Though he did not want or ask for the field, Avraham magnanimously refuses to accept the gift and insists on paying. Rather than negotiating the price, Efron says in an offhanded manner: “My lord listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me?” Avraham readily agrees to the exorbitant price for a useless field (the real value was closer to 17 shekels of silver), and pays him on the spot in current coin, with the gathered crowd as witnesses.
The purchase was made in order to both honor and bury Sarah. The transaction also created the first legal claim of the Hebrews to a piece of Eretz Yisrael.
Listening to the “trop” (Yiddish term for Hebrew Tea’mim)
The chantings of the Torah texts (cantillations) were introduced by Moshe ben Asher around the year 895. The chants are written and notated in accordance with special signs or marks to complement the letters and vowel points. These notations provide information on the syntactical structure of the text and are a commentary on the text itself, highlighting important ideas musically.They enhance the drama of the Torah and also provide insights.
Efron says “Lo Adoni Shmaeni” translated as “no, my lord, listen to me…” The “lo Adoni” is separated by a hyphen (making it one unit) and the phrase is chanted with a zakayf katan. On the surface Efron seems respectful and helpful. But, in my view, the structure of his words paints an entirely different picture. The hyphenated phrase lo-adoni is better translated as “my master…NOT”. What Efron really is saying is that he has no respect for Avraham who is “...my NOT- master ” (not my master) and demands that Avraham listen to him.
Shalshelet (related to the root word three) appears only four times in the Torah, always on the first word of the verse. It communicates vacillation, a feeling of doubt, anxiety and internal struggle. In this week’s Parsha, Avraham sends his household Chief of Staff (assumed to be his devoted servant Eliezer) to Avraham’s family village to find a bride for his son Yitzchak (then 40 years old). When he arrives near the city of Nachor in Mesopotamia, he stands in prayer seeking God’s assistance for success in his mission. The word “yayomar “(and he said) is accented with the Shalshelet. Eliezer was weighed down by the enormity of his task and by self-doubt. Furthermore, even as he sincerely desired to serve his master Avraham, he was conflicted because he wanted Yitzchak to marry his own daughter.
When Lot was preparing to flee Sodom, he hesitated for a moment. The Hebrew word Vayismahmaw is accented with a Shalshelet, underscoring the internal conflict he (and others in similar situations) experienced: The rational decision to flee vs. his deep attraction to Sodom and the loss of assets and lifestyle.