Parashas Chaiyei Sarah

The beginning of this week’s parashah describes the negotiations Avraham had with Efron HaChiti to acquire a burial plot for Sarah. At first Efron grandiosely offered to give Avraham a plot for free, but when Avraham insisted on buying the plot, Efron asked an exorbitant price. Throughout most of the Torah’s account, Efron’s name is spelled in full, with a vav. However, in the verse describing how Avraham weighed out the money for Efron, the second time Efron’s name appears it is spelled without a vav. The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 57:7):
“One who is anxious for wealth is an evil-eyed man, and he does not know that lack will come upon him” (Mishlei 28:22). One who is anxious for wealth is an evil-eyed man – this refers to Efron, who set an evil eye on the money of a righteous man. And does not know that lack will come upon him – that the Torah would omit the vav in the second mention of his name in this verse.
The Maggid analyzes the import of the omitted vav. He develops his explanation by discussing the fate of Chiram, king of Tyre, who helped Shlomo HaMelech build the first Beis HaMikdash by supplying cedar and cypress wood and providing other assistance. He should have gained eminence for this deed, but he spoiled his name by making himself into a deity, as described in Yechezkel 28. Had he not so, he would have lived a full and honorable life, rather than suffering a disgraceful early death. As our Sages put it, he did himself evil (Tanchuma, Beshallach 12 and elsewhere). If not for his grievous sin, he would have had the merit, due to his role in the building of the Beis HaMikdash, of having Hashem continually recall his name with favor.
Efron, as well, had the chance to make a good name for himself in Hashem’s eyes. His field served as the burial site of the sainted forefathers of the Jewish People. Since Hashem continually keeps the forefathers in mind, He would also have continually recalled Efron’s name with favor. But Efron, like Chiram, did himself evil and destroyed his chance for eternal eminence. In his anxiousness for wealth, he rushed to extract money from Avraham for his field, and thereby lost his merit. Since he sold the field to Avraham, his own name became disassociated with the field, and would no longer be recalled in connection with it.
Now, the way we just explained how Efron lost his chance for eminence raises a question about Chiram. For Chiram also received lavish compensation for what he contributed, yet we said above that his contribution made him worthy of great eminence, and he would indeed have gained such eminence had he not sinned. What made him different from Efron?
To answer this question, the Maggid turns to a Mishnah (Avos 1:3): “Do not be like servants who serve the master with the expectation of receiving reward. Rather, be like servants who serve the master with no expectation of receiving reward.” The Maggid brings out the message behind this Mishnah with a parable. A great nobleman took a trip, and decided to spend a night at a certain inn. The innkeeper cleared out a room for the distinguished visitor, making space for all his utensils, and also prepared quarters for the visitor’s servants and horsemen. In addition, he made the nobleman a fine meal, which the nobleman enjoyed very much. In the morning, the nobleman asked the innkeeper how much he owed him, and the innkeeper named a price. The nobleman paid the price, went on his way, and forgot about the innkeeper. Although the innkeeper had treated him well, he had done so only for his own benefit, to make money. So once the price had been paid, the nobleman no longer had any tie with the innkeeper.
Later, the nobleman decided to spend another night at another inn. The innkeeper treated him lavishly, as befit a man of his stature. Moreover, he decided not to charge the nobleman anything; the opportunity to serve as host for such a distinguished man was so precious to him that he felt he could not take money for it. As the nobleman prepared to leave, he asked the innkeeper hw much he owed. The innkeeper replied: “It was an indescribably immense pleasure for me to have you visit my inn and give me the opportunity to serve you. How can I possibly ask you to pay me?” When the nobleman heard these words, a deep love and affection for the innkeeper welled up in his heart, and he urged the innkeeper to accept some gifts from him. The nobleman heaped the innkeeper with gifts, whose value was seventy times what the lodging fare would have been. And, from that day on, the memory of that innkeeper was engraved in the nobleman’s heart, and he would regularly send valuable gifts to the innkeeper and his family, maintaining this practice for the rest of his life.
It is the same with serving Hashem. When a person serves Hashem expecting to receive reward, as in a business transaction, Hashem deals with him accordingly. Although Hashem is satisfied with the service he renders, and rewards him appropriately, he gets no more than his just reward. But Hashem deals differently with a person who is loyally attached to Him and considers it a great honor and a pleasure to serve Him, without setting his sights on reward. To such a person, Hashem grants an eternal stream of enormous bounty.
Now, when Chiram provided materials for the Beis HaMikdash, he did so purely out of generosity, without seeking reward. Hence, were it not for his sin, he would have deserved to have Hashem continually recall his name with favor for all eternity. Even though Shlomo rewarded him with lavish gifts for his contribution, the reward was not what motivated him. Efron, on the other hand, conveyed his field to Avraham in the framework of a plain business transaction, with no aspect of generosity. He therefore deserved no recognition.
Thus, our Sages were on the mark when they applied to Efron Shlomo’s teaching: “One who is anxious for wealth is an evil-eyed man, and he does not know that lack will come upon him.” Efron, due to his evil-eyed nature, was anxious to extract money from Avraham for his field. He did not perceive the great loss he was causing himself by his conduct – a loss of eternal eminence in Hashem’s eyes. He acted in a lowly way, and remained lowly. And, as testimony to his lowliness, the Torah struck out a letter from his name.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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