Chaye Sarah - weekly Torah portion
After the death of Sarah, Abraham seeks a burial place for her, “and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’ The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’” A sad moment in Abraham’s life continues with a demonstration of support to a grieving friend. When Abraham then speaks of a particular place owned by a particular person, Ephron tells him, “No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.” Abraham insists on paying the full price for that plot, some would even say an outrageous price, demand by Ephorn, “four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you?!” And so Abraham could finally bury “Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.”
It would be perfectly understandable had Abraham accepted the gift presented to him at that difficult time after the loss of his beloved wife. Still, Abraham elects to refuse the offering and insists, “If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there.” He declines the offer to receive that piece of land as a gift and demands, “for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.” It is an interesting approach and has behind it also a thinking about its long-term ramifications. When a gift is presented, there is a relationship that is formed between the giver and the receiver of the gift and it is different from the relationship formed between a seller and a buyer. The relationship between a giver and a receiver of a gift there is also a built-in expectation, explicit or implicit, that a favor be returned at some other time in the future. The expectations in a purchase transaction are different, both sides receive things of presumably and agreeably of equal value. Once the transaction is consumed no further expectation exists, or should not exist.
Abraham, mourning the loss of his wife keeps to his senses and understands the profound difference between a gift and a deed for a purchase and prefers the latter. He does not wish to enter that relationship that also entails future expectations. Ephron could have easily given for free that piece of land, or give it at a discounted rate, and yet Abraham insists on paying the full price. Many generations thereafter the Jewish National Fund, the Keren Kayement LeIsrael or KKL, was founded in 1901 as part of the decisions of the fifth Zionist Congress. Its charter was raising funds for the purchase of land in Palestine and preparing the land to be used. Up to the declaration of Israel as an independent state in 1948 almost one billion square meters of land have been purchased. Today the KKL is involved in a variety of activities and national tasks that include Israel’s reforestation. This brought Israel to be the only country in the world to have more acreage of forests entering the 21st century then when entering the 20th century.
In the past few days, but also over the past decade if not more, we read quite a bit about what is happening at the KKL as well as the disputes between the KKL and the Israeli government. There is no doubt that the KKL has earned by itself some of the world deserved criticism for its activities and handling of its affairs. Some are problems imported from the Israeli politics into the KKL, others are problems within the organization, and some are problems resulting to what seems to be the disrespect of the Israeli government to what rightfully belongs to world Jewry. The KKL approached the world Jewry with a simple request to be part of the development of the land by allowing the purchase of land here in Israel. Jews worldwide have enthusiastically rose to this call thus making this effort a property of the People and not solely of the government of Israel. Claiming that may eventually prove itself as a big mistake and quite shortsighted. In complete contrast to Abraham’s case, here the government is demanding a gift and is not willing to pay even the fair price. It is using its power to enact law and control the Knesset in order to impose short term needs of the government which will probably also not serve and useful purpose.
As I see it the government is handling this case very much like its handling of the issue of the Kotel. It does not comprehend that we are talking of what belongs to the Jewish People as a whole, and represented by the national institutions, rather than the government of Israel that has certain rights deposited in its hands for the Jewish People as a custodian who must ensure that the rights of each person and organ in the state are kept. Enacting law that are for the sole preservation of the government, in this case under slogans of bettering the lives of people here, may return to us as a boomerang. The moneys will be used and gone, the system will further corrupt and we will be tasked with the need to rebuild that which was destroyed. Maybe it is time not to demand gifts from friends but rather buy and sell at a fair price.
Reuven Marko, 10 November 2017, 22 Heshvan, 5778