Avraham, Efron, and the Root of all Evil
by Mr. Sam Davidowitz
Near the beginning of Parshat Chayei Sarah, Avraham is challenged with the distressing task of finding a burial place for Sarah. Avraham seeks the land where Me’arat HaMachpeilah stands, so he petitions the elders of the city to intercede with the owner of the land on his behalf. When the owner, Efron, is confronted publicly, he shows reverence for Avraham and offers him the land for free. Avraham then replies, “Natati Kesef HaSadeh,” “I have given the price of the field” (23:13). At first glance, Efron’s reply seems to show deference to Avraham: “Arbah Meiot Shekel Kesef Beini UVeincha Mah Hi,” “Four hundred silver Shekalim, between me and you, what is it?” (23:15). Seemingly, Efron is capitulating and implying that a loss of four hundred silver Shekalim in order to help his friend Avraham is nothing. The next Pasuk, however, tells us otherwise: “Vayishma Avraham El Efron,” “And Avraham listened to Ephron” (23:16). Another way of saying this is that Avraham “reads between the lines” and knows that Efron is saying just the opposite, that paying four hundred silver Shekalim is really not that bad when it is going to a “friend.” Apparently, Efron’s offer of the land for free is just a polite formality because he is in public. Additionally, the doubletalk that Efron employs when requiring payment only adds to his smarminess.
We have often been told that money is the root of all evil. This concept, though, is often amplified and blown out of context. Great things can be done with money, and I am sure that we have seen numerous examples of this. In about one month we will acknowledge the Yahrzeit of Edmund Safra, who was murdered nearly six years ago by a nurse attempting to get his hands on some of Safra’s fortune. Safra’s name is well known to Sephardic Jews throughout the world because synagogues, Yeshivot, university programs, Jewish centers, and hospitals have been named after him or his father Jacob Safra in appreciation of his sponsorship. Safra established the Israel Sephardic Education Fund to provide scholarships to noteworthy students throughout Israel. He established the Jacob E. Safra institute of Sephardic Studies at Yeshiva University and endowed the Chair of Sephardic Studies at Harvard University. These are just a few examples of Safra’s charitable endeavors throughout several decades. In truth, going into detail concerning Safra’s benefice would yield volumes.
Edmund Safra was just one example of the scores of charitable people who defy the myth that money causes trouble. From the average person who is careful to give Maaser, to those who are in a difficult situation and give only when they can, to those who routinely drop change into the paper cups of the homeless on the streets or on the subways, we see acts of Tzedakah and Chesed every day. Money may help one’s Yeitzer Hara to manifest itself more easily, but money does not cause us to do the wrong thing. Putting the blame on money is the easy way out. Taking responsibilities for our actions is a lot tougher but a lot more realistic, and in the long run, it is ultimately a lot more rewarding and gratifying.
A Righteous Split
by Nachi Friedman
The first Pasuk of Chayei Sarah states (23:1), “Vayihiyu Chayei Sarah Mei’ah Shanah VeEsrim Shanah VeSheva Shanim,” “And the [days of] Sarah’s life were one hundred years and twenty years and seven years.”
Rashi says that her years are split up by the word Shanah to show that each age has special significance. At the age of 100, she was like a woman of 20, who is not yet subject to certain heavenly punishments for sins. When she was 20, she was as beautiful as a girl at the age of seven, who is not responsible for sins at all. This would seem to prove that Sarah lived a full and virtuous life.
Ramban, disagreeing with Rashi’s interpretation, quotes a later statement about Avraham (25:7): “VeEilah Yemei Shenei Chayei Avraham Asher Chai, Mei’ah Shanah, VeShiv’im Shanah, VaChamaish Shanim,” “And these are the days of the years of Avraham’s life: one hundred years and seventy years and five years.” Applying Rashi’s idea to this case would not make sense; Avraham could not have been pure for his whole life, since he worshipped idols when he was young. According to Ramban, since Avraham’s years were not meant to be broken up, neither were Sarah’s.
We also see similar phraseology with regard to Yishmael (25:17): “VeEilah Shenei Chayei Yishmael, Meiah Shanah, USheloshim Shanah, VeSheva Shanim,” “And these are the years of Yishmael, one hundred years and thirty years and seven years.” We know that Yishmael was evil for most of his life (although Chazal teach that he did Teshuvah near his death), so obviously we would not break down this Pasuk either.
Why, then, do we interpret the broken up Pasuk as meaning the person lived a perfect life only for Sarah?
The difference between Sarah, Avraham, and Yishmael is in the end of Sarah’s Pasuk., which adds, “Shenei Chayei Sarah.” It repeats, “This is the life of Sarah.” This is what tells us that the life of Sarah was perfect. We would not break down Avraham’s or Yishmael’s Pasuk because these words are not added for Yishmael or Avraham.
However, at this point we must go back and question Ramban. Is he saying that Yishmael and Avraham were equals?
One Midrash states that Avraham, like Sarah, was perfect, seeming to contradict Ramban. Additionally, as we learned before, we cannot say that Avraham was perfect, because the words Shenei Chayei Avraham do not appear! So how can this Midrash say Sarah and Avraham are equal?
Rav Moshe Sternbach offers an answer. He asks: If both Avraham and Sarah were perfect, why did Avraham live to 175 while Sarah died at 127? He suggests an answer based on a Midrash stating that both Rabi Yochanan and Rabi Chanina agreed that Avraham was 48 years old when he “came to life” and realized that there was a God. If we subtract 48 from 175 we get 127, meaning that for 127 years of Avraham life he was equal to Sarah in perfection and virtue. Hence, although he was not a Tzadik for his entire life, he could still be equated with Sarah to some extent.
It’s All in the Chevra
by Ariel Herzog
The first topic that Parshat Chayei Sarah discusses is the burial of Sarah, for which Avraham buys Me’arat HaMachpeilah from Efron the Chitti for four hundred shekels. When the Chittim agree to allow Avraham to bury Sarah, he asks for Efron, to whom Avraham Avinu insists that he pay the full price for the land. Efron maintains that Avraham need not pay at all, but finally agrees to allow him to pay fully.
From a simple reading of the text, it would appear that Efron is truly a nice guy with no desire for money. However, Chazal view him in a completely different light. After Avraham buys the land, Rashi comments to 23:16 that the name “Efron” is spelled without a Vav. He explains that this letter is missing to show that even though Efron continues to insist that Avraham pay nothing, he eventually takes a greater amount of money from Avraham than is necessary. Chazal clearly look at Efron as a hypocrite, and certainly not as a Tzadik. Why do they view him in this light?
Perhaps the answer lies in the word “Efron HaChitti,” “Efron the Chitti.” These people known as Chittim are descendents of Chet the son of Canaan (son of Noach’s son Cham). In Parshat Noach, Cham performs some type of sinful act upon his father (it is not clear from the text exactly what Aveirah he does; see Rabbi Jachter’s article on the topic on www.koltorah.org), for which Noach curses him. When describing the sin Cham performs, the Torah calls him “Cham Avi Chenaan,” “Cham, the father of Canaan” (9:22). The Torah’s emphasizing that he was “the father of Canaan” may be showing that this personality of sin is continuous in the genes of the family. Chet, the grandson of Cham, has in him this personality trait that is found in all of the Chitti family. In fact, when the Torah later lists two idol-worshipping wives whom Eisav marries, it calls them both “HaChitti” (26:34). This is why the Torah says that “Efron was sitting amongst the children of Chet” (23:10) – to let us know that Efron continues the practices of that tribe of Chittim who were idol worshippers and sinners.
Now we can understand where Chazal are coming from. It is impossible to understand how Efron, a descendant of the notorious people of Chet who perpetuated their activities, could possibly be a righteous person. Although he may have seemed nice and friendly, in essence he was a hypocrite and liar. Perhaps this can shed light on what Avraham said when he came to the land of the Chitti: “I am a stranger and sojourner with you” (23:4). Avraham may be saying that he is not like these sons of Chet and does not want to be associated with them as Efron is. Avraham knows that Efron is not someone who should be emulated, so he makes a declaration that he is not like Efron or his people.
One message that emerges from this is the importance of associating with a proper group. One can either imitate Efron, who has engrained in himself the values of a terrible group of people, or one can be like Avraham Avinu, who refuses to be considered part of such a Chevra, instead living and placing himself with the righteous. Through Avraham’s approach, one can develop proper Midot and Ahavat and Yirat Hashem. Truly, as Chazal say, “woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor; good for the righteous one and good for his neighbor” (Sukkah 56b).
If You Will It
by Jeremy Jaffe
Masechet Avot 2:4 tells us to “make your will like [God’s] will, so that He will make His will like your will.” Although it is seemingly hard to understand, this Mishnah can be understood through analyzing a Pasuk in this week’s Parsha.
In 25:8, the Torah begins its discussion of Avraham’s death and burial by telling us that before he died, Avraham was “BeSeivah Tovah, Zakein VeSavei’a.” According to Radak and Rav Saadia Gaon, the words “Zakein VeSavei’a” mean, “and he had satisfying days.” This interpretation leaves us with a question, however: what was so satisfying about Avraham’s life?
One possible interpretation is that he was satisfied because he got to see his children and grandchildren during his life time, was good and honorable, and got to witness Yishmael’s repentance (Radak on BeSeivah Tovah). Another explanation presented by Sforno states that it was satisfying in that Avraham saw and did everything he wanted to see and do during his lifetime. The problem with accepting this explanation, however, is that it implies that Avraham succeeded in achieving every single endeavor that he wanted to accomplish on this world. It is obviously irrational to assume that Avraham achieved every objective he set for himself, since he was a human being, and human beings sometimes fail. We are therefore charged to find a different way to interpret Sforno.
For this we turn to the explanation of Ramban, who agrees with Sforno that Avraham got whatever he wanted. However, he would probably disagree with the Sforno’s usage of the word “BeYamav” (“In his life time,” literally: “In his days”), as Ramban explains that righteous people like Avraham do not desire worldly possessions, but rather Olam Haba, the World to Come. Because he had removed any unholy desires he might have had, Avraham only wanted that which was holy and true. This would even allow us to accept the Sforno’s opinion, since we could say that because Avraham understood that everything is from God, he accepted that even his failures were decreed in heaven. For example, after failing to convince God to save the people of Sedom, he understood that God wanted the people to die despite his prayers, and he was consequently satisfied with the outcome, since it reflected God’s will, which is holy and true. In this way, Avraham made his will like God’s will, resulting in God making His will like the will of Avraham, which was for Avraham to receive Olam Haba.
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