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.