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PRICE HIKE

by Rabbi Shmuel Weiss    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"This is only a test. We repeat, this is only a test." What do you mean, only a test? Tests constitute a big part of our lives, as Hashem is constantly testing us to reveal the upper limits of our potential.

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"This is only a test. We repeat, this is only a test." What do you mean, only a test? Tests constitute a big part of our lives, as Hashem is constantly testing us to reveal the upper limits of our potential.

We all know that Abraham was tested 10 times, culminating in the akeidah (binding of Isaac). Yet the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 111) says that the tests didn’t end there. In this week’s Torah portion, when Ephron charges Abraham 400 silver shekels—an exorbitant rip-off at the time—for Sarah’s burial plot in the Cave of Machpelah in Chevron, Abraham does not complain at all. This, despite Hashem’s promise to give Abraham the length and breadth of the land of Israel in perpetuity, and for free.

Yet the Talmud’s explanation needs exploring. True, Abraham had to pay a lot of money for the plot. But why was this such a nisayon (ordeal)? Was money so important to Abraham? Did he have something better to spend his money on? And wasn’t he wealthy anyway, such that he could well afford the 400 shekels?

The simple answer to this question is that money is always a test, because we simply are not rational when it comes to money. We do things that even amaze us when silver enters the equation. We are, all too often, tempted, lose our cool, even act in an amoral, illegal fashion if the ante is high enough.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the foremost leader of Torah Jewry of the past generation, adds another dimension. Ephron, you see, first offers Abraham a free burial plot for Sarah, but on one condition: That Sarah be buried "among us," in the general, non-Jewish cemetery. It is only when Abraham insists that Sarah’s eternal resting place be separate from the Hittites that the price rises astronomically.

Now Abraham has a major dilemma. He can opt to bury Sara in the communal graveyard and save all that money. Or he can reserve a distinct, "Jewish-only" section for burials now and in the future, but pay through the nose for it.

The yetzer hara (evil inclination) is really in its element now. It has myriad rationalizations why Abraham could—and should—save his hard-earned cash, just by agreeing to this "little" condition of Ephron’s. Just think of all the great things, all the great acts of kindness, that Abraham could do with all that money he’ll save!

But Abraham wisely resists the short-term financial gain, and opts for the long-term, eternal benefits of maintaining Jewish particularity, at all costs. And that’s why we still have a Jewish nation, and why we still have the Cave of Machpelah.

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Rabbi Shmuel Weiss, a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family, is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Rana’ana, Israel. He is also the author of Shammes: Stories of Jewish Experience.

You are invited to read more Parshat Chayei Sarah articles.

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