25 Cheshvan 5783
Are we living a life of integrity?
Every story in the Torah contains pictures that are meant to teach us principles on how to live our lives. One picture is worth a thousand words. When I prepare a message, like our rabbi did for so many years, I ask our Creator to help me see what lessons He has for us today. I am always amazed as I read to see a thread begin to unravel and resounds throughout history. It is, however, just my opinion and each of us might see thing it differently, and that is the beauty of the Torah. I love that I am part of the long heritage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of our prophets and of Yeshua whose true identity I still struggle with today. But what I do know about him is that he stood for integrity and truth and that’s what I hope I can do in presenting what I see in this parashah.
Genesis 23: 2 begins with, “Sarah died in Kiriath-Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. Then Abraham arose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying: I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” Then the bargaining process begins for the field and the cave at Machpelah where Abraham could bury Sarah. From the previous parashah Vayera, we know about Abraham’s excellent negotiation skills with the Creator over Sodom and Gomorrah, so surely Heth wouldn’t be a problem.
Now listen carefully to the dialogue that follows between Abraham and the Hittites, Heth and Ephron; ‘Hear us, my lord: you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choice of our tombs; none of us shall withhold his burial chamber from you, so that you may bury your dead’.” And Abraham got up and bowed down to the people of the land, to the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying: ‘If your mind is that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and plead for me with Ephron the son of Zohar to give me the cave of Machpelah, which he has at the end of his field, for as much money as it is worth, let him give it to me as a possession for a burying-place among you.’ Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth, and of all who entered at the gate of his city, saying:’ ‘No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field and the cave that is in it, I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people, I give it to you; bury your dead.’ And Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And Abraham spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying: ‘But if you will, I beg you, hear me: I will give you the price of the field; take it from me, and I will bury my dead there.’ And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him: ‘My lord, listen to me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? therefore bury your dead.’ And Abraham heard Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver to Ephron, which he had named in the hearing of the children of Heth, four hundred silver shekels, current money among the merchants.”
Did you notice the repetition and emphasis on “in the hearing of the children of Heth” as well as “all who entered at the gate of his city”. This information was recorded and remembered, but later generations developed selective memory.
Why didn’t Abraham simply take Heth at his word? Wasn’t giving him the property, a kind and generous gesture on the part of the Hittites? Why didn’t Abraham negotiate on the price even though he knew that he was being charged an exorbitant amount of money?
Abraham knew full-well the character of the people living in that land. Heth, the father of the Hittites, was the son of Canaan whom God had cursed because of Ham’s behavior with Noah. The Canaanites were idol worshipers who practiced human sacrifices in which children were slaughtered in front of their parents on stone altars and dedicated to their god Molech. They also engaged in deviant sexual activity. This is what formed the character of the Hittite people.
In Genesis 24, we see that Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac and told him, “I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell.” And later in Genesis 27:46 we will see that Esau marries two Hittite women who make Rebecca’s life miserable. Abraham had left that lifestyle when he obeyed God’s call to follow the one invisible God, and he passed that onto his son, Isaac, who would pass it to Jacob.
At no time did it look like Abraham was judging the Hittites. He knew the weakness of our human nature; he had seen his own failures twice, when he lied about Sarah being his sister, but following God meant that he now had the choice to change his behavior and grow in wisdom. He was always gracious, hospitable, and kind.
Why is it so important for us to know that Abraham purchased this cave from the Hittites instead of accepting it as a gift? One of the reasons is knowing the character of the person with whom you are making a deal. He knew that their word could not be trusted. They might simply, at any time in the future, have taken their land back. I have heard stories about how Jews after the Holocaust, came to Israel, bought, and paid for their properties from the Arabs, who later insisted that the land was stolen from them. That lie continues to this day. There are those who want to sell land to the Israelis, but their own people persecute and even kill them for doing that.
Perhaps Abraham had another reason for paying the full price which I surmised from the verses in Genesis 14:21-23 “And the king of Sodom said to Abram: ‘Give me the people and you can take the goods for yourself.’ And Abram said to the king of Sodom: ‘I have lifted up my hand to the LORD God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread nor a shoelace nor anything that is yours, lest you should say: I have made Abram rich.’” In my opinion, this is the same principle.
Although both Heth and Ephron insisted that Abraham would not have to pay for the tomb, Ephron made sure that Abraham knew what it was worth. Were they upfront in their dealings? Did they say what they mean? I’m not judging them because I’ve seen that in my own character; we have all done it, but those of us who walk with our God are called to a higher standard. Abraham showed integrity while the Hittites did not. I remember my father-in-law telling me that in business, when he made a promise, all he needed to do was to shake hands; it was as good as a signed contract. He was living in Egypt then and one day, the government took everything away from the Jews. Contracts or handshakes meant nothing. Abraham knew that the Hittites could do the same.
In Exodus 3:8 when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He said “ I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and large land, a land flowing with milk and honey; to the place of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, etc.” The Israelites would, over time, have to remove these people from the land before they could live in peace. If they didn’t drive them out, we are told in Numbers 33:55-56 “But if you will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those who you allow to remain shall be as thorns in your eyes, and as jabs in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land in which you dwell. And it shall come to pass, that as I thought to do to them, so will I do to you.”
These words may sound harsh, but history has shown us what happens when we disobey our God. The descendants of the Hittites still live among us today within the modern state of Israel and outside its borders, causing death and harm to our people every single day. There has been a high rate of violence in and around Hebron during the past century, and in January 1997 part of Hebron came under the administration of the Palestinian Authority (the PA); they are avowed enemies of Israel. Although the Cave of Machpelah was deeded to Abraham at its purchase, our people only have limited access to it. It is now the site of the Ibrahimi Mosque or the Sanctuary of Abraham. They do not honor that ancient deed. That is the difference between those who have a relationship with the Creator and those who don’t; with those who have honor and integrity and those who don’t.
Our background has so much to do with the formation our characters. Our family life is the soil in which we grew to be the people we are today. The advantage that those of us have, knowing from where we come, coupled with a sincere relationship with the God of Israel, is that we can choose to change certain negative, learned behaviors that do not reflect that we were made in His image. When we come to the realization that there is only one Creator, one God for all humanity, however that happens, we come to understand that He has given us a “Standard of Truth”, the Ten Commandments, by which we can know how to make wise choices in our lives; this is followed by a sense of responsibility and integrity. Our lives, like Abraham’s, begin to reflect a lifestyle very different from those who do not live by this Standard.
So, to sum up, even though Abraham failed with his words, when he lied about Sarah being his sister, as we all fail, Abraham’s word over time, was becoming his bond. He acted upon his principles, turning his emunah, his faith in his God into bitachon, trust. Yeshua was so clear about this when he said, “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” That is the heart of our Creator who never goes back on His Word. There are not many leaders today who we can trust, who keep their word. Those who do are under constant attack. Despite the attacks that come, may we walk in the footsteps of Abraham, in integrity and in so doing, be a light to those who are searching for a Standard by which to judge right from wrong, especially at a time when, what is right has become wrong and what is wrong has become right. Let us stand up for the Truth in Torah and let us stand out above the rest!