Judaism: A Parsha about Property and a Shidduch
There are two main narratives in our parsha: the purchase of the Cave of the Patriarchs (Mearat Hamachpela) and Isaac's shidduch (matchmaking). The Torah tells of how Abraham spoke to the Hittites and asked them to help him bury his wife by talking to Ephron and asking him to give Abraham the double cave that stands at the edge of his field, offering to pay full price for a gravesite within their midst.
After detailng the protracted negotiations with Ephron, the Torah says: "and the field of Ephron that was in the Machpela that was opposite Mamre, the field and the cave within it…rose to become Abraham's for his cattle."
And Rashi comments, on the use of the verb "rose" that "The acquisition was elevated, it rose in value because it went from being the possession of a commoner to belonging to a king." The Torah seems to hint at Rashi's words, because at first the Torah mentions the field alone, later on it mentions the field and the cave within it, after that it says that Abraham buried Sarah in the Mearat Hamachpela, and in the following verse, the Torah repeats the verb, writing "and the field and cave within it rose to be Abraham's burial site, fom the sons of Het".
Why? Because once the area was in the hands of Abraham, it influenced earthly matters. The Maharal of Prague explains that this is the reason we forgive a groom on his wedding day (Jerusalem Talmud, Bikurim 3). It is because he is elevated to greatness, like a king who is also forgiven his transgressions.
Close reading of the parsha shows that at each juncture a different thing is emphasized.
At the beginning, Abraham asks for the cave, and the field is mentioned as an afterthought because the cave is at its edge.
About Ephron it says "the field of Ephron", because the material possession of the land and the field were what held importance for him. When the field becomes Abraham's, it says "the field and the cave within it" and at the end, when the purchase is complete, "the field and the cave within it" is repeated, and when Sarah is buried, it once again says"the field and the cave"
Rashi says that the field was elevated in the verse where the Torah switches from writing "Ephron's field" to "the field and the cave within it", because now the field is in important hands, those of the Patriach Abraham. Now it is sanctified along with the cave, and even the field which Abraham saw as secondary, became hallowed due to his ownership. Not just the owner changed, the entire value of the field and cave changed.
The negotiations here are similar to those in which we engage with the Arabs. We ask for a little, we promise a great deal, it doesn't satisfy them, and we have to bribe everyone. My father zts"l (Chief Rabbi Avraham Elkana Shapira) asked why the Torah writes that Abraham told Ephron: "I have given money for the field, take it" – it seems to mean that Abraham had given money in the past, so why does it say "take it" in present tense?
Abraham knew that the seller is afraid that his neighbors will kill him, because he is profiting by the transaction and they are not, and that is why Abraham says "I have given money" – I have already bribed the surrounding neighbors and you don't have to worry.
And perhaps the Hittite ownership was similar to the disputed settlement at Givat Assaf near Beit El – there is a claim of Arab ownership at Givat Assaf, but no one knows who the owner is...
And at this point, may I wish all those whose sustained property and other damage in the recent US hurricane a speedy return to their normal lives - and perhaps they will find their way to a move to Jerusalem!
There is an inherent connection between the purchase of the Cave and Isaac's marriage, because in both cases, someone acquired something that was already promised him by G-d. A person's shidduch is preordained in the Heavens, and he must search for it on earth, just as the land of Israel was given to Israel but they had to fight for it and Abraham had to pay for land that he had been promised.
Abraham prayed for G-d for Eliezer's success, Eliezer prayed to succeed in his mission, and Isaac prayed for a good shidduch, as our Sages comment on the verse : "And Isaac went out to converse in the fields towards evening." On that verse, they comment that there is no lone conversation except for prayer, as it says in Psalms 102, 1: "The poor man wraps himself in prayer and pours out his conversation before G-d."
The Sages (Talmud Brachot, 26,2) said that the afternoon prayer composed by Isaac, is one that must be said with special care, because Elijah's prayer at Mount Carmel was answered during the afternoon prayer and Isaac was answered immediately after he prayed for a good partner – it seems that this twilight prayer is responded to more rapidly.
It is said that "The matching of a man and woman is from G-d", and the Gemara in Sota and Sanhedrin says that a Heavenly voice announces each person's mate 40 days before their birth – note that Sefer Ikarim says that is because G-d is one of the three partners in giving each person life: mother, father, G-d.
This seems to hint about letting G-d take care of things without interference – of course keeping parents informed about what is happening and not being chutzpadik towards them. One must expend efforts (hishtadlus), but it is G-d's decision and the efforts should be mainly prayers to Him. That is why the story of Isaac's shidduch has such an emphasis on prayer.
Praying at the graves of Tzaddikim? Some make a point of doing so. The Gaon of Vilna writes that the Shechina (Heavenly presence) is at the graves of Tzaddikim now that there is no Holy Temple. And what will we do when the Temple is rebuilt? Some have said half in jest that people will pray at the graves of those who were not resurrected.
But -the basic concept of prayer is that man stands before the King, the Shechina. Prayer is a conversation with G-d, that is why the verb is used for Isaac. The Chafetz Chaim says that man must pray as if talking to a friend, not in the sense of talking lightly, but in the sense of unburdening everything that is in one's heart.
One is allowed to make shidduchim even on the Fast of the Ninth of Av, so that no one will gt ahead of you in being granted Divine help, so why shouldn't we be allowed to do business transactions on the fast – someone can beat us out there as well, after all.
The answer is that a shidduch is announced 40 days before birth from the Heavens, showing that it is a spiritual, not a material decision, a person's entire home and future depend on it being the right shidduch. That is why there is so much prayer in the story of Isaac and Rivka, but none about buying the field.
May everyone find his and her partner for a blessed life.
(Excerpts from a Torah shiur given at the yeshiva, translated and posted with permission.)