Abraham Gets Down to Business

The Torah reading this Shabbat will be Chayei Sarah, from Genesis 23:1 – 25:18, and the reading from the prophets is 1 Kings 1:1-31, and from the Gospels – John 4:3-14. The reason that this portion is called Chayei Sarah is because Sarah the wife of Abraham dies and is buried in Hebron in the cave of Machpelah. Sarah dies at the age of 127 years old. Isaac is now 37 years old, and is still not married. She dies in Kiryat Arbah, that is just outside of Hebron where Abraham is encamped.

Abraham’s camp was too big to be in the town of Hebron. Remember from chapter 14 of Genesis that Abraham had 318 men between the ages of 20 to 50. These men, in that age group, had to have wives, and probably children. If I add a wife and one child to each of these servants of Abraham it would be 954 souls.

These are the souls that Abraham made in Haran before he came down to the land of Canaan. What does it mean to “make souls” it means to convert them, to evangelize?  Jacob on his death bed is speaking to his children and he says:

“The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil— Bless the lads. In them may my name be recalled, And the names of my father’s Abraham and Isaac, and may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth.” – Genesis 48:16

The Hebrew words used for “teeming multitudes,” could be translated as “who will be fished upon the midst of the earth.” This is the source from which Yeshua appropriated the concept of making his disciples “fishers of men.”

Abraham was an evangelist. He “made souls in Haran” and these people followed him to the land of Canaan, as the Lord commanded Abraham. They too left their homes and left their families, and their birthplace, and followed Abraham, and without a doubt they too believed in the God of Abraham and did not worship idols like their forefathers did in Haran.

That is the reason why Abraham always encamped outside the major cities of Canaan. He did the same outside of Shechem, and outside of Hebron. It seems like he encamped with his large camp and the places where he encamped were marked with a large tree that all would recognize as being his address:

“Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.” – Genesis 12:6 [NKJV]

As you can see the Terebinth of Moreh is outside of Shechem (Nablus of today).

“Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.” – Genesis 18:1 [NKJV]

The terebinths of Mamre are outside of Hebron. Until this day there is a big terebinth in Hebron that the tour guides show as the place of Abraham’s encampment in Hebron.

If you want to do business with Arabs and some Jews of Middle Eastern backgrounds, you must study the negotiation between Abraham and Ephron the Hittite, the owner of the Cave of Machpelah.

First, who are the Hittites? They are an Arian people from the center of Anatolia (middle of modern Turkey). They had a very developed material culture (archaeological architectural elements prove this, and they worked with Basalt, a hard black stone that is found in the Golan Heights.

So, like Abraham they were not natives of the land of Canaan. There are no known natives of the land of Canaan in the book of Genesis. Every one that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had business with was from somewhere else. Jerusalem had Jebusites, and there where Hittites like those in Hebron and those living to the south of the sea of Galilee, as well as Perizzites, and Girgashites, and Amorites, and Philistines.

Well, Abraham comes to look for a burial place for his wife. He is a formidable leader with a big camp, and he wants a permanent burial place for his family. So, he comes to Hebron and it is obvious that he has done his homework and knows exactly what he wants, the place, the name of the place, and the market value. He gets up from the days of mourning for his wife Sarah and goes shopping for a place of burial in Hebron.

He tells the Hittites: “I am a resident alien among you; sell me a burial site among you, that I may remove my dead for burial.” – As you can see Abraham does not “beat around the bush.”  He is direct and gets straight to business, “sell me…” The signal is that “I am not here to ask for a favor, or charity from you. I am here to do business with you.” He already knows the name of the owner of the place – Ephron.

However, the Hittite culture much like the culture of today’s natives from the land of Israel, is seen here so very clearly. “Hear us, my lord: you are the elect of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold his burial place from you for burying your dead.”

The Hittites in Hebron already know who this Abraham is, “my Lord, you are the elect of God among us.” Literally they are saying, “you are a president, a prince, among us. Any one of us would be happy to give you our burial places to bury your dead.”

They are very gracious and generous to Abraham. However, Middle Eastern generosity should not be taken lightly, or it will cost you a whole lot of money in the end. Abraham knows this well and he responds: “If it is your wish that I remove my dead for burial, you must agree to intercede for me with Ephron son of Zohar.” As you can see Abraham is prepared and knows exactly what he wants.

Never do business in the Middle East unless you have done your homework and your research, well before you start. “Let him sell me the cave of Machpelah that he owns, which is at the edge of his land. Let him sell it to me, at the full price, for a burial site in your midst.”

Abraham also states clearly that he is not in need of charity, “I am willing to pay full price. I am not interested in discounts or favors from you Hittites.” Notice that all this time Ephron is right there with the rest of the Hittites, he is a part of this whole conversation.

Now that Ephron heard Abraham, that he is willing to pay full price – Ephron pipes up!

“Now Ephron dwelt among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the sons of Heth, 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!’” – Genesis 23:10,11 [NKJV]

The key point here is what Ephron said: “I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead.” The offer to give Abraham the cave and the field for free means that the property is not really Abraham’s – he will have to be indebted to Ephron and his family forever.

If he wants to be buried with Sarah, next time it will not be a gift, it will be a totally different picture, and the price would be super high. So, Abraham carried out a clear and clean business deal, and the presence of the Hittite leaders now is only a benefit because they are witnesses to this kosher business deal.

Now Ephron has a clear path to state his price and he does:

“Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land.” – Genesis 23:12 [NKJV]

(A sign of acceptance and agreement with whatever price Ephron states. Because this is a public meeting with the Hittite people of Hebron, Ephron cannot be too greedy. He must function within the bounds of what is appropriate, or his own countrymen would look at him as a con man.)

After Abraham bowed this is what happened:

“…and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If you will give it, please hear me. I will give you money for 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; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.’” – Genesis 23:13-15 [NKJV]

“…and (Abraham) spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.’ And Ephron replied to Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.’ And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants. So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.” –Genesis 23:16-19 [NKJV]

This is valuable lesson when you do business or go shopping in the Middle East and Jerusalem is not an exception. When I say in the Middle East, I do not mean that only Arab merchants deal this way, Jews from Middle Eastern countries act the same, it is the local business culture.

However, if you develop sincere friendships with merchants in Jerusalem and have that friendship tested over time, you have a totally different situation, and trust is built far beyond anything that you will see in the West.

We see in chapter 24 similar dealings between Eliezer, Abraham’s servant who went up north back to Haran to find a bride for Isaac. Something was weak in Isaac’s relationship with women, and the reason is probably because of the sexual overtures that Ishmael had with Isaac when Isaac was a young child.

“Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing. She said to Abraham, ‘Cast out that slave woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’” – Genesis 21:9,10

The word “playing” here is sexual play, and you can see this word in the story of Joseph where the wife of Potiphar the Egyptian master of Joseph, accuses Joseph of “playing” with her (Genesis 39:14). The very same Hebrew word is used – “le-tzahek” (to laugh, jest).

Now it is clear why Sarah was so insistent on having Hagar and her son Ishmael immediately kicked out. And why she feared that Ismael was intending to destroy Isaac so that he would not receive the inheritance of Abraham.

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.