How Could Avraham Trick Ephron?

Vayishkol Avraham l’Ephron es ha’kesef asher diber b’aznei bnei Cheis arba me’os shekel kesef (Bereishis 23:16)

 Parashas Chayei Sarah begins with the death of Sarah and Avraham’s efforts to purchase a burial plot for her. Even though Avraham acquired the land by paying 400 silver shekels to Ephron, the transaction still seems to contain an element of deception. The Zohar HaKadosh (Vol. 1, 128a) makes clear that Avraham knew that the property he was purchasing was also the burial place of Adam and Chavah, which increased its value immensely, while Ephron was unaware of this fact and therefore agreed to sell it for far less than its true worth. How could the righteous Avraham take advantage of Ephron by withholding this critical information from him?

The Shem MiShmuel explains this episode based on a fascinating halachic ruling quoted by the Hagahos Ashri (Bava Metzia 2:9), who records that a Jew once purchased lead from a non-Jew in order to cover his roof. After buying it, the Jew changed his mind and decided not to use it, and instead he sold it to another Jew. The second Jew discovered that, in reality, it wasn’t lead, but silver covered with a thin layer of lead, in which case it was worth far more than the price he paid for it. What is the law in this case? Is the second Jew obligated to pay the first Jew for the full value of the silver?

The Hagahos Ashri quotes Harav Eliezer of Metz, known for his work Sefer Yereim, as ruling that in this case, the first Jew was unaware of the true value of his purchase and never intended to acquire the silver. Because he believed that he was buying lead, he never acquired the silver, and since it did not belong to him, the second Jew was permitted to keep it and was not obligated to pay for its additional value, and he adds that Rabbeinu Tam agreed with this ruling.

The Shem MiShmuel uses this ruling to explain Avraham’s conduct with Ephron. Ephron viewed his property as an ordinary field with a cave, and he was completely oblivious to its true spiritual value. Therefore, all he owned was a field with a cave, which was worth 400 shekels, and as such, there was no deception involved in the transaction in which Avraham paid Ephron the fair value for what he owned.

Harav Gedaliah Schorr, zt”l, extends Rav Eliezer of Metz’s ruling to Torah study. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (6:2) teaches that any person who engages in Torah study becomes elevated as a result of the numerous spiritual qualities that the Torah imbues in a person. However, in light of Rav Eliezer’s opinion that if a person doesn’t recognize an object’s true value, he never takes possession of it, Rav Schorr explains that a person who studies Torah for years but does not truly appreciate its holiness and greatness will not merit acquiring its virtues, just as the person who thought he was buying lead did not acquire the silver, and just as Ephron was unaware of the spiritual elements of his property and did not own them. Rav Eliezer’s principle teaches us that the elevation and spiritual growth that a person merits through his own Torah study is directly proportional to the greatness that he ascribes to the Torah.

The Shem MiShmuel’s justification for Avraham’s conduct is expressed by the Zohar HaKadosh (Vol. 1, 127b), which records that Avraham was chasing one of his cattle and followed it into a cave to which it fled. When Avraham entered the cave, he saw a tremendous light, but Ephron never noticed anything unusual, and to him the cave appeared enshrouded in darkness. The Zohar explains that this is because ein kol davar nisgaleh ela l’baalav — objects are only revealed to their true owners.

Harav Elimelech Reznik of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim derives a practical lesson from this concept. He explains that sometimes a person experiences an epiphany in recognizing a certain project that should be undertaken. Based on Chazal’s teaching that ein kol davar nisgaleh ela l’baalav, the person must understand that this insight was specifically revealed to him as an indication that this is part of his responsibility and unique mission, and if he passes up the opportunity, he is missing out on an essential part of his life’s work.

Q: Just prior to the return of Rivkah with Eliezer, Yitzchak went out to the field to pray (24:63). How was he permitted to do so when the Gemara rules (Brachos 34b) that one should not pray in an open field because only through praying in a private, enclosed location will one be able to fear Hashem and pray with proper intent?

A: Tosafos cryptically answers that it was permissible for Yitzchak to pray in the field because the field in which he was praying was on Mount Moriah. The Levush explains that because he had been bound there by Avraham and almost killed, the location inspired in him the appropriate fear of Hashem, and he was able to properly pray there.

Similarly, the Kaf HaChaim suggests that because the Divine Presence rested there, Yitzchak was uplifted by the holiness of the place and was allowed to pray there. Alternatively, Tosafos answers that it is only prohibited to pray in an open place through which people are constantly passing, but Yitzchak prayed in an unused field where his concentration would not be disturbed.

The Beis Yosef disagrees with this answer, arguing that this is not the reason the Gemara forbids praying in a field, but the Taz and Magen Avraham defend the answer of Tosafos. The Bach maintains that Yitzchak did not pray in an open field, but rather in a forested area in between the trees.


 

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.