Buy! Buy! Buy!
The beginning of this week’s parsha affords us a front row seat to Avraham’s purchase of the burial place for his beloved wife, Sarah. The embellished detail of this transaction is quite uncharacteristic of the Torah’s normally succinct narratives and with the repetition of the phrase “and it [the cave and adjoining field] became Avraham’s property” (23; 17 and 20) things then just get way out of hand. Why is it so important for the readers of future generations to read the excruciatingly lengthy dialogue spoken during Avraham’s purchase of this land? Why do we have to hear (twice!) that as a result of this sale, this cave was now specifically his property?
An answer to our question can be found by locating the other times in TaNaKH where similar purchases are made and exaggerated reports of the facts given. If we can compare (or contrast) these episodes, we may understand more fully the idea behind the event in our parsha.
Where are these other examples? In Breishit 33 (18-19) it reports that Yaakov bought the plot of land he wanted to settle in from Shechem (the man) and his father, Chamor for 100 silver pieces. All fine and well; one verse, nothing too unnecessary there. But then it repeats, almost verbatim, the very same event’s description in Sefer Yehoshua (24;32)!
The third is the purchase of “the threshing floor of Aravnah.” When David sinned and counted the nation at the end of Sefer Shmuel, he had to be punished. Of the three punishments offered, he chose the pestilence that would kill off many of the Jewish people. In order to halt this plague, King David went and bought a threshing floor from this man named Aravnah – but he wanted to just give it to the king (just like Efron to Avraham in our parsha) but he refused and forcibly paid the “unwilling seller” 50 sliver pieces.
So how does this help our understanding of the Machpelah purchase? Well, if we consider what each of these purchased places represent, suddenly a significant pattern is seen: a) Ma’arat HaMachpelah – the symbol of our beginnings, the connection to our Avot; b) Shechem – (as mentioned in Yehoshua became the burial place of Yosef) the symbol of our transference from a mere family of Hebrews (Avot) to a nation of Jews (Yetziat Mitzrayim)- Yosef was the bridge; and c) the Threshing floor – (this became the very place of the mizbeach in the Mikdash) the symbol of our unique spiritual connection. These three places, (the only three with a specific record of their purchase in all of TaNaKH!) symbolize for us our foundation, our national creation and our exceptional Godly existence!
But, although these places are obviously crucial to our national awareness, why must we know that they were specifically purchased through such a focus on all the details of the transactions? The answer lies in the unique significance of the action of ‘buying’.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (1: 6) states that one must ‘acquire’ a friend (as opposed to the previous command to ‘make for yourself a Rav’). Why the change of verb? Why ‘make’ a ‘Rav’, but one must specifically ‘acquire’ a ‘friend’? Unlike conquering/taking (where the beaten/taken from never feels he has truly given up ownership of the land that was forcibly taken from him) and unlike receiving a gift (where the recipient never feels that the gift is actually, totally his: “oh, that thing? So-and-so gave it to me” even twenty years later) purchasing is the only form of transaction where the buyer feels a true, sole ownership and the seller expresses a total relinquishing of his ownership. A perfect trade is made and each of the participants in the exchange comes away possessing a new item having surrendered his or her old one; nothing is technically lost or gained, just ‘replaced’, so all is accepted fully. If so, then one is commanded to specifically acquire (not make) a friend, which serves to create a mutual relationship, in which one can learn from and teach in, grow from and cause another to grow. So, while the first relationship was to ‘make’ a guide (one-way, taking from him), the next charge is create a mutual relationship to grow from on a peer level, taking and giving.
If this is the case, then we can apply this same understanding to understand our enigmatic section. For, fusing all our ideas together, we can learn a tremendously important lesson: no matter in whose hands these nationally significant places are physically found in throughout our history (like today L) these symbols of our foundation (Ma’arat HaMachpelah), transformation (Shechem- Yosef’s bones) and spiritual individuality and connection to God (Mizbeach/mikdash) will always be ours! The Torah is making sure we understand that each of these plots was specifically and undeniably purchased, exchanged and given over to us fully, without any strings attached; so, even when we can’t live in them physically, their symbolic significance will always remain ours and ours alone. We will always have the Avot as our past, the bridge that initiated our creation into God’s chosen nation, and the ability to come ‘closer’ to God that the Mizbeach afforded us even without the use of the actual structure.
Shabbat Shalom — Rav Jonathan Bailey