|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta-MY BROTHER: MENACHEM MENDEL SHLOMO BEN CHAYA ROCHEL
-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
This week, I return to my routine of sending an updated version of one of my essays on the Parsha HaShevua; however, I specifically chose to send out a D’var Torah which my brother Mendy helped me compose. The Chiddush here is partially his. Look out for Mendy’s name in the annotated sources (Note #22) and read this D’var Torah as a Zechus for his Refuah Shileimah B’Karov. If you’re patient, Mendy will be acknowledged once again at the end.
חַיֵּי שָׂרָה ● Chayei Sarah
● Was Efron so bad? ●
“Chessed Speaks Louder Than Words”
Following Sarah Imeinu’s passing, Avraham Avinu traveled towards Kiryas Arba where he sought out her burial plot.1 There, Avraham met the B’nei Cheis, among them Efron Ben Tzochar, the man who ultimately would sell Avraham the Ma’aras HaMachpeilah (lit., “Cave of Doubling”) which would become the cemetary of for all of the Avos and Imahos.
Now, although seemingly innocent in the Torah’s text, Efron receives flak from Chazal who classify him notoriously as the one “who spoke much, but even a little, he did not do” as he had said he would grant Avraham the gravesite for free but ultimately took a whopping four hundred silver Shekalim from Avraham in exchange for it.2
At the outset, Chazal seem to make an unfair assessment. What would drive them to such a harsh conclusion? Rashi points out that Efron’s character flaw is hinted to in the fact that a letter Vav [ו] is subtracted from Efron’s name in the verse describing the exchange.2 Obviously, though, the spelling of Efron’s name is not such an iron clad proof of anything; it is a Remez, a hint, at best. Is there any other basis in the text for such a view of Efron? Why otherwise would one be so compelled to look at Efron in this negative light?
What is even more troubling is that, if one looks at the verbal exchange between Avraham and Efron, the impression that one gets is that Efron was genuinely trying to make matters easy for Avraham. It was not like Efron slyly pulled a bait-and-switch and gypped Avraham. On the contrary, Efron put in a strong effort to give Avraham the entire piece of land completely free of charge. Numerous times, Efron urged Avraham to settle in as he pleased. In fact, it was Avraham who persistently fought Efron’s seeming generosity and insisted that he allow him to pay the full worth of the field. Efron, as far as one can tell, wanted to give Avraham the land as a gift, while Avraham applied counter-pressure to get Efron to just accept the money. How, then, can anyone rightfully blame Efron or look down upon him for doing so?
In order to understand Chazal’s traditional perspective of Avraham’s encounter with Efron, we may have to consider some other more internal details concerning the textual make-up of the story. There are some interesting elements contained in this passage that are not commonly found elsewhere.
- “Saying to him”
For example, when Avraham initially met the B’nei Cheis and asked for a burial plot, the Torah communicates that they were responded to him with the words, “Vaya’anu B’nei Cheis Es Avraham Leimor Lo”-“And the B’nei Cheis answered Avraham saying to him.”3
The expression, “Leimor Lo”-“saying to him” is somewhat unusual. The word “Leimor”-“saying,” by itself, is a typical introductory word before a quotation. That said, to say “Leimor Lo”-“saying to him,” sounds kind of superfluous, especially considering the beginning of the verse which already testifies, “Vaya’anu B’nei Cheis Es Avraham…”-“And the B’nei Cheis answered Avraham…” From these words, it is already evident that they were talking “to him.”
And yet, this unique format would appear again in the same scene where Efron was speaking to Avraham; “Vaya’an Efron Es Avraham Leimor Lo”-“And Efron answered Avraham saying to him.”4 Once is an anomaly, but twice in a single scene begins a pattern. Why should this word, “Lo”-“to him,” be included?
- “Hear me out”
Another element in this text is an expression that is utilized even more frequently in the passage, is the expression of listening or hearing [שמיעה]. Among Avraham, the B’nei Cheis and Efron, the Biblical expression for listening is utilized no fewer than six times in the passage. When Avraham called himself a sojourner, the B’nei Cheis insist to Avraham, “Shma’einu [שְׁמָעֵנוּ] Adoni Nesi Elokim Ataoh Bisocheinu…”-“Listen to us, my master; a prince of G-d are you in our midst…”5
When Avraham responded to them, he told them, “…Im Yeish Nafshechem Likbor Es Meisi Mi’L’fanai Shma’uni [שְׁמָעוּנִי] U’Fig’u Li B’Efron Ben Tzochar”-“…If it is your desire to bury my dead before me, [you] listen to me and entreat for me Efron son of Tzochar.”6
When Efron spoke up for the first time, he too said, “Lo Adoni Sh’ma’eini [שְׁמָעֵנִי] HaSadeh Nasati Lach…”-“No, my master, listen to me; the field I have given you…”7
And Avraham retorted, “…Ach Im Atoh Lu Sh’ma’eini [שְׁמָעֵנִי] Nasati Kesef HaSadeh…”-“…However, if you would but listen to me, I am giving [lit., have given] you money for the field…”8
Efron counter-argued, “Adoni Sh’ma’eini [שְׁמָעֵנִי] Eretz Arba Mei’os Kesef Beini U’Veincha Ma Hi?…”-“My master, listen to me; a land of four hundred silver Shekels’ worth, between me and you, what is it?…”9
And finally, when the deal was actually sealed, the Torah states, “Vayishma [וַיִּשְׁמַע] Avraham El Efron…”-“And Avraham listened to Efron…”10
Clearly, more than a pattern, “listening,” is the apparent theme of the text here. But, why is it a theme? What does this theme suggest? The simple explanation for the constant remark, “Listen to me,” is that apparently, the speaker wants the addressee to hear him out, literally, to listen to him, because evidently, although each individual has his own preconceptions of the situation and what is proper etiquette here, the other answers, contending, “Listen to me,” as if to say, “Hold your thoughts and expectations because I’m going to tell you what the reality is—something different than what you’re thinking.”
Thus, if Avraham thought he was a sojourner, the B’nei Cheis would argue that he is really a prince. They assured Avraham that there would really be no problems, and yet Avraham wanted to speak to the “manager.” Avraham wanted to buy the field, and yet Efron argued that it would really not be necessary. And so forth.
Nonetheless, there seems to be something even deeper and more fundamental here that the Torah wanted us to “listen” to and detect. What might that be? Why does this dialogue focus so much on “listening”?
- “In the earshot of…”
Another clue in our text which demonstrates the apparent significance of listening or hearing in our text is the fact that whenever the Torah relates that either Efron or Avraham spoke, the Torah stresses that they spoke “B’Oznei B’nei Cheis”-“in the earshot (lit., ears) of the B’nei Cheis”11 or “B’Oznei Am HaAretz”-“in the earshot of the people of the land.”8
- The Final “Hearing”
And then, we have perhaps the strangest textual feature of the passage which takes place immediately after Efron told Avraham for the last time that the field is not for sale, but Avraham’s for the taking. In the aforementioned exchange, Efron reassures Avraham: “…Eretz Arba Mei’os Kesef Beini U’Veincha Ma Hi? V’Es Meis’cha K’vor”-“…a land worth four hundred silver Shekalim, between you and me, what is it? Now go bury your dead.”9
And how would Avraham respond? “Vayishma Avraham El Efron Vayishkol Avraham L’Efron HaKesef Asheir Diber B’Oznei B’nei Cheis…”-“And Avraham listened to Efron and Avraham weighed out for Efron the money’s worth that he had spoken in the earshot of the B’nei Cheis…”10
The obvious question is: What does the Torah mean, “And Avraham listened to Efron”? It is quite evident from Avraham’s actions that he did not listen to Efron, because Efron had clearly told him to take the field for free, but Avraham simply ignored him and started to weigh out money. If anything, the text should have said that “Avraham refused to listen to Efron, and he weight out the money…” How does Avraham’s “noncompliance” demonstrate his listening skills?
Analyzing the Exchange
As we’ve been analyzing the scenario, we’ve pointed at various peculiarities in the design of the passage.
Beginning with the first one we’ve underscored, when telling us that the B’nei Cheis and Efron spoke to Avraham, the Torah uses the superfluous phrase, “Leimor Lo”-“saying to him,” despite the fact that it is obvious that they were speaking to him. How are we to understand the extra expression?
Apparently, the text is stressing that they were not merely speaking to Avraham, but that they’re speaking directly to Avraham. Now, what does that mean? In other words, the Torah means to communicate that this was not just a conversation between two parties, but it is actually a presentation or an appeal—a carefully crafted speech designed for Avraham to hear out. They were trying to speak to his liking—not just talk to him, but really grab him with their words.
We mentioned that a further indicator of the apparent importance of each individual’s words here is the fact that when the individuals in our story speak, it is always in the “eartshot” of others. With all of the emphasis on listening, apparently, speech is the key. People are speaking to be heard. Here, the B’nei Cheis and Efron really want Avraham to hear everything.
In this vein, we could explain how everyone seems to be throwing around the words, “Listen to me.” The first time we found this expression, the B’nei Cheis were reassuring Avraham that he was esteemed in their eyes and that no man would withhold Avraham from doing what he needed to do. Avraham bowed graciously to this tiding, yet he was not completely satisfied. The question is: Why not? It’s odd because the story could have stopped there. They’ve already told him that the coast is clear. Why didn’t Avraham bury Sarah and leave?
Although the people had said that Avraham wouldn’t have to worry—that no man would withhold him, Avraham felt the need to counter; “Listen to me,” he started, and asked them if he could speak with Efron. At this point, we don’t know who Efron is, but apparently, Avraham did. Indeed, despite the fact that the people indicated that Avraham wouldn’t have to clear things with anyone, Avraham knew of a particular man, this Efron character, who, as the text reveals, was conveniently sitting right there in the crowd the whole time; “V’Efron Yosheiv B’Soch B’nei Cheis…”-“And Efron was sitting among the B’nei Cheis…”12
At this point, things are starting to look a little bit fishy. They said that there was “no man,” just before the text introduces us to a prominent man. Now, this is not suggest that the people blatantly lied or tried to set Avraham up, but it just looks peculiar. There is nothing to condemn here, at least not yet. After all, even after Avraham met “the man,” as was argued, Efron still attempted to reassure Avraham and offer him an excellent deal which would cost Avraham literally nothing.
Back to Chazal – Speaking vs. Doing
What is interesting is that this theme which we’ve highlighted in the dialogue is the idea of “speaking” and “listening” to the spoken words is immediately related to Chazal’s view of Efron. As we’ve established, they conclude that Efron would “say a lot, but not do even a little.”
This fault Chazal see in Efron stands in stark contrast to the credit of Avraham whom, Chazal teach, would “say a little, but do a lot”13 (as is demonstrated by the fact that he offered his guests some bread and water, but actually served them a banquet of milk, butter, and tongues in mustard14). The kind words of Efron, Chazal warn us, are just that—“words.”
But, again, how do they know? Wherein the story do Chazal recognize this serious fault in Efron? All this time, he appears decent, even generous. However, maybe the theme of speech, in fact, speaks volumes. Efron and the B’nei Cheis were undoubtedly speaking wonderful, kind, and generous words. However, as was mentioned earlier, they still seem suspicious. Therefore, we we have to wonder: Are these people truly as exceptionally generous as they appear or were they just trying to appeal to and “get to” Avraham to perhaps trip him up later? Were they just trying to look honorable by way of their speech? If the latter is true, then perhaps, when they said, “Listen,” what they meant was: “Listen to the words we’re saying. Can’t you tell that we’re nice people?”
Bonus: A Chiasm for Good Measure
While we have reasonably entered an investigation of Efron and the B’nei Cheis, we still cannot be sure of anything. However, there is an additional hint in our text which might support the above understanding of the Torah’s presentation of the give-and-take between Avraham and Efron. The exchange between Avraham and the B’nei Cheis is presented in our text in the form of a chiasm.15
In our case, the chiasm is arranged so that the middlemost variable, which serves as the climax of the passage, is Efron’s entrance and his presentation:
A) Avraham requests field.16
B) Butter-up response—“Listen: No one will stop you.”1
C) Avraham bows and responds—“Listen: Get me Efron; I will pay full.”18
D) Efron’s stage presence—“Listen: It is yours.”19
C) Avraham bows and responds—“Listen: I’m prepared to pay full.”20
B) Butter-up response—“Listen: What is four hundred silver Shekalim between us?”21
A) Avraham buys the field.10
Indeed, the apparent fulcrum and true focus of the passage is the “show” Efron put on and the fancy “speech” he prepared for Avraham. But, how do we know that it is, in fact, a show, and not a genuine display of generosity on Efron’s part?
Efron Exposed – The Price Tag
Indeed, we have not proven that Efron is a bad guy. We know that Avraham himself was Ba’al Chessed, but couldn’t Efron be one too? Surely, Avraham was greater, but why must that mean that Efron was just a great talker?
Though we have no way of knowing for sure, it would help us to see how far Efron would go to live up to his words. Why should anyone suggest that Efron didn’t completely intend to altruistically give Avraham the land for free? Well, let’s see.
We know that Avraham refused to “give in” and accept the land as a gift. He wanted to pay, and indeed, that is what he ended up doing. So far, Avraham’s purchase was Avraham’s doing. He could have taken the deed and run. For now, it it is all on Avraham. However, there is one detail to consider. Look again at what Efron said just before Avraham weighed out the money for the sale.
With this detail, we reach the major clue which we have yet to give real attention to; the price tag. Before the deal was sealed, Efron urged Avraham, “…Eretz Arba Mei’os Kesef Beini U’Veincha Ma Hi? V’Es Meis’cha K’vor”-“…a land worth four hundred silver Shekalim, between you and me, what is it? Now go bury your dead.”9
What is quite glaring here is that, in this verse, for the first time, Efron names a price and labels the land. This factor is strange, because individuals who genuinely want to present a gift never reveal a price, for if they do, the recipient is sure to eventually pay them back.22 In fact, had Efron not named a price, Avraham may not have been able to dish out such a sum of money.
Early, we argued that it was strange that the Torah concluded: “Vayishma Avraham El Efron Vayishkol Avraham L’Efron HaKesef Asheir Diber B’Oznei B’nei Cheis…”-“And Avraham listened to Efron and Avraham weighed out for Efron the money’s worth that he had spoken in the earshot of the B’nei Cheis…”10 We had suggested that Avraham specifically did not listen to Efron, but he ignored his offer. But, if one thinks about it, Avraham’s weighing of the money was only a response to the information Efron revealed—the price. In other words, when the Torah says that Avraham listened to Efron, it means that he listened to Efron’s price. More fundamentally, it means that Avraham listened, not to Efron’s speech—not to his presentation—but to Efron’s heart—what he knew Efron really wanted! He heard the latent context of Efron’s speech.23
For all we know, maybe Efron truly intended to give Avraham a gift, but if Efron was really being altruistic, he would have not said what he said. He would not have named a price, let alone, a massive one. Indeed, even if Avraham was so stubborn and determined to pay a fee, Efron could’ve told him, “Okay, we’ll play your game. Since you insist on paying, you can pay me a Shekel—two Shekalim! But that’s it!” However, Efron could not help himself.
It is strange. Where did Efron get off naming such a huge price? It could be that he was trying to impress Avraham with the elegance of the gift. It could be that he was even frustrated by Avraham’s refusal of the amazing gift that he needed to tell Avraham just how nice he was being. “It’s four hundred silver Shekalim worth that I’m giving you here! Don’t be a fool. Take it!” Maybe, Efron wanted to let Avraham know the quality of the gift so that Avraham would feel indebted to him moving further. Either way, that is not how altruistic Chessed is done. Those are all components of the art of speech and presentation which sully potential Chessed. Real Chessed is not done to impress or to guilt the recipient. It is certainly not done so that a recipient should feel indebted.
All of the above possibilities as to why Efron named a price depict the exact picture that Chazal were actually portraying of Efron. He talks a big game, but for whatever reason, he does not deliver. It is all about the speech, barely about the action. Avraham, on the other hand, was an authentic, altruistic Ba’al Chessed, and as such, he saw through to Efron’s heart and recognized what Efron really wanted. And at the end of the day, Avraham stood true to his word and did not leave without paying, while Efron ultimately named and accepted a large price.
Efron perhaps intended to be nice, or at least look nice. However, it was really a bunch of nice words, disguising at the very least, a tinge of conceit, and at most, a greedy, sleazy businessman. We don’t really know the full extent of this shady Efron character, but he is definitely no less than shady.
The point that Chazal make is that actions speak volumes louder than words—that true Chessed is more than benevolent speech. And again, it’s not like Efron necessarily tried to trick Avraham. But, on the scale of Chessed, he fell far below altruistic. Efron may not have been a terribly evil guy, but he was nowhere near Avraham’s level in Chessed, even if our text, at first glance, seems to present Efron as a Chessed-combatant or a close-second to Avraham in the rank of doers of Chessed. It wasn’t close at all. The question of Chessed is always how far, even beyond words, one will go. Who is a Ba’al Chessed, and who merely talks about it? An Avraham goes all the way.
Later in the Sidrah, we find that Rivkah Imeinu would go all the way as well, not merely saying that she would water the camels, but actually doing it.24 Her brother Lavan, like Efron, on the other hand, would say plenty of kind words, but reveal himself to also be shady in reality (a separate, but related discussion for later). The point is that “niceness” comes in all shapes and forms, and Avraham’s arrangement with Efron, if one looks closely, tells us a lot about each of these different forms. The main takeaway though is that true Chessed speaks louder than words.
Mendy’s genuine investment in the lives of so many others speaks volumes. There is a reason why he does not only have so many friends, but so many best friends. There is a reason why he is not only a successful teacher, but a favorite teacher. He cares deeply enough to exert himself for his friend and students. Mendy, like Avraham Avinu, reads in between the lines and straight into the hearts of others, and he can do so fluently because he has a heart that is careful and patient enough to listen. He is not just a doer of Chessed, but he is a Ba’al Chessed, a master of Chessed.
May we all be Zocheh to not only engage in Chessed, but to engage in true Chessed—become Ba’alei Chessed who anticipate the needs of others, and Hashem should grant us the ultimate Chessed in the form of Mendy’s Refuah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Mevarchim Kisleiv!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Bereishis 23
- Rashi to 23:16 citing Bereishis Rabbah 58:7, Bechoros 50A, and Bava Metzia 87A
- Bereishis 23:5
- 23:10, 16
- Bava Metzia 87A
- See Bereishis 18:5-8 with Rashi citing Bava Metzia 86B
- For more on chiasms, see what I wrote earlier; “Noach & the Giant in the Room,” Introduction to Chiasms, Parshas Bereishis.
- Bereishis 23:4
- This idea was suggested to me by my brother R’ Mendy Eisenberg.
- Bereishis 24:19-20