A Torah Thought for Teens
Parshas Chayei Sarah
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Avraham begins this week’s parsha by speaking with the people of Chevron for the purpose of purchasing a burial plot for his wife Sarah. In his introduction, he refers to himself as a “ger v’soshav – a foreigner and a [permanent] citizen”. What we immediately see from this pasuk is the inherent contradiction; a stranger is not a citizen and a citizen is not a stranger. Why then did Avraham use two opposite terms to describe himself?
To explain this, Rashi offers two p’shatim. The simple understanding of the pasuk (pashut p’shat), is that Avraham was simply telling the people that although he was a foreigner, he was now moving in as a citizen. The second explanation that Rashi gives is taken from a Midrash. Avraham was telling the people that if he would be treated properly and given a burial place, he would act [humbly] like a foreigner (a foreigner usually acts in a more humble manner because he feels out of place). However, continued Avraham, if I am not treated properly, I will act like a citizen and take control of the land by force, since Hashem promised it to my children.
According to the second explanation, we understand why Avraham was mentioning the fact that he was a “ger v’soshav”; he was issuing an ultimatum. “If you don’t deal properly with me, I will be forceful.” It is more difficult to understand the first pshat in Rashi. Why was Avraham telling them his personal history – that he was first a foreigner and then became a citizen? What did this have to do with his attempt to buy a burial plot?
The Ramban gives an explanation of this pasuk that sheds light onto what Rashi may be telling us. The Ramban explains that in those times every family had its own burial place. When Avraham came to Chevron, the people did not understand why he wanted to buy a burial plot (and perhaps suspected that he was using Sarah’s death as an excuse to purchase land from them). If Avraham was a foreigner, then he should have taken his wife back to his homeland and buried her there. If, on the other hand, Avraham was a local citizen, then his family should already have a plot nearby. Either way, he should not have to buy a new plot here in Chevron. To explain this to the people, Avraham told them that he was indeed a foreigner, but he now wished to settle in and become a citizen. He therefore needed to establish a new place for the graves of his family.
A careful examination of the two different approaches used by Avraham reveals that this was very much in line with the s’hvil hazhav (golden, middle-of-the-road path) described by the Rambam. The Rambam tells us that, although a person may not be stingy with his money and must give tzedaka, he should also not be so carelessly generous to the point that he does not keep for himself that which he and his family need. Similarly, a person should not constantly act with levity – but at the same time, he should not be overly serious at all times. The correct path, teaches the Rambam, is to find the middle path – the shvil hazhav – between the two extremes.
Avraham, being the wealthy and influential person that he was, had the opportunity to come to Chevron and forcefully demand what he wanted from them. However, as an ish chesed, he did not do that. Instead, he tried being passive, reasoning with them and explaining his needs, in the hope that they would cooperate with him. However, Avraham did not allow himself to be taken advantage of. With the very same words that he used to display his humility, he demonstrated that he would stand up for his rights. He chose the middle path between passiveness and aggressiveness.
As Torah Yidden, we can be the symbol of sensitivity in the world while at the same time respectfully and firmly staking our positions. Walking the path of the shvil hazhav will truly make us an ohr l’amim. (a light unto the nations).
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.
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