Today is July 23, 2021 -

Bet Israel Masorti Synagogue

讘讬转 讬砖专讗诇" – 讘讬转 讛讻谞住转 讛诪住讜专转讬 讘谞转谞讬讛"

19 Yehuda Hanasi St., POB 437, Netanya 4210300, Israel
Phone: 972-(0)9-862-4345
Email: office@betisrael.org

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Dvar Torah delivered by Mike Garmise on Shabbat, Cheshvan 25 5776, November 7 2015

The king is dying/dead, long live the king 鈥 or is it the queen who is dead聽and living. As Sara is laid to rest in the first piece of land that Avraham聽actually purchases in the land that has been promised to him and his聽offspring, he jump starts a process to ensure that his great project聽survives. And so we have the first love story in the Bible. But just as聽interestingly, we also have a Biblical lesson in Levantine bargaining.

Sara has been at Avraham’s side, helping him, saving him, advising him聽(she was the first Jewish backseat driver) and, some say, assuring his聽continued proclivity as a prophet. She was, or may have been, much more聽prophetic than her hubby. She wore the galabia.

She’s gone and Avraham grieves for her 鈥 for exactly five words in聽Hebrew 鈥 and then he gets to work. To buy a plot. Remember his聽bargaining with God about the future of Sodom? What tenacity. What聽boldness. Here he is like a puppy. He can, allegedly, get the plot for聽nothing, but no, he ups the price for a hole in the ground from zero to 400聽pieces of silver. An exorbitant price, making Efron the Hittite hit his head聽in disgust, why didn’t I ask for 500! What happened to the astute聽bargainer Avraham?

Lessons number one and two in Levantine bargaining. Know your聽opponent. And the first offer is just that, an opening. Especially when the聽seller is a wily land developer who knows the value of each handful of聽dirt as well as he knows his own hand. All his posturing to the people 鈥撀營’ll give it to him for free 鈥 is as likely as ice in hell.

But Avraham is no fool. He is on a mission. He’s been promised a land聽but at age 137 he still has nothing. So he goes out and buys. Publically.聽And big time. I paid for this, he is saying, I overpaid and it is mine.

Mission one accomplished. Now he has a plot of land but no future聽generation to take advantage of it. Yitzhak is 37, not married, still trying聽to get over his father almost shechting him, and now mourning for his聽dear departed mother.聽But Avraham’s a good Jewish parent and gets to work. He sends his聽faithful servant back to Ur Kasdim to find a suitable wife for Yitzhak.聽And he does, coincidentally from Avraham’s own family.

And here we have the second story of Levantine bargaining. Eliezer,聽Avraham’s servant, is tops. He prays up his wish list to God for the聽attributes he wants to find in the young maiden, his prayer is answered聽and he bedecks the wholesome young woman with jewelry. A surefire聽tactic.

When he meets the family, he subtly changes the order of things so that聽his actions more easily fit into the scenario he has concocted. Which is聽lesson number three. Know your customer’s weaknesses. In this case,聽make the story seem to be God’s will (a ploy that works even today). And聽lesson number four, be sure to shmear the contractors (Laban) with lots of聽gold and silver and other precious goods so that they will be more聽amenable to your proposals.

Our ancestors’ actions serve as a model to follow. In fact, that lesson is聽being applied with renewed vigor in our own days. We have a prime聽minister who is going to give a foreign gas company rights to billions of聽dollars worth of gas at discount prices (why, we will only know later).聽We have public works officials who sell indulgences to contractors,聽taking kickbacks worth millions in return for the contractors winning the聽tender.聽We have upstanding politicians like Fuad Ben-Eliezer who allegedly聽received millions in payoffs and kickbacks. We have politicians of all聽parties in power who appoint their lackeys instead of competent聽professionals who might actually do something constructive for the聽country. Where is Avraham when you need him to repel the King of聽Sodom who wants to give him all the possessions that he, Avraham has聽redeemed 鈥 to which Avraham says, I will not take even a shoelace from聽you so that can say that you made Avraham rich.

But back to Ur Kasdim. We know why Laban acquiesced. Money. What聽we don’t know is why Rivka agreed to leave immediately. Based on her聽earlier behavior with the camels, materialistic incentives shouldn’t have聽been as efficacious as with her brother Laban. Perhaps she was curious聽about life over “there”. Perhaps she wanted to get away from Laban’s way聽of life and thought that anything would be better than his overbearing聽attitude. Perhaps this is lesson five in Levantine negotiations (applicable聽to all of us, in all parts of the world at all times): when opportunity聽knocks, be sure you have your shoes and hat on and go for it.

We don’t know for certain why she went. But we do know that she had聽what it takes. When she and Yitzhak meet, there are sparks on both sides.聽And when he brings her to his late mother’s tent, we understand that she聽is the new queen, able to console him, finally, and bring him some sorely聽needed peace of mind.

We later see that Yitzhak and Rivka settle in Beer Lachai Ro’i, the well聽that Hagar the mother of Ishmael found in the desert. Are we supposed to聽understand that he went to live near his half-brother and his mother? Did聽he stay away from Avraham because of the close-call almost sacrifice?聽Or because he wanted to build a future for his extended family where all聽members, no matter how different and contentious they were, could live聽together harmoniously.

Last lesson: the past may stay with us. But living in the past can only lead聽to sorrow. Like Yitzhak, we should work instead to make the future聽better.

A lesson we should all learn.

Shabbat Shalom.

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