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From: Mendy

Dear Rabbi,

I never understood why, since G-d promised and gave the Land of Israel to Abraham, that he had to ask the local inhabitants to sell him the field of Efron for a burial plot for Sarah. I mean, it was really Abraham’s anyway, right?

Dear Mendy,

This is a very good question, and one that is addressed by the Sages of the Talmud.

The fact that Abraham had to plead and negotiate with the Hittites in order to acquire a burial place for Sarah despite having being promised by G-d so many times that He would give him the Land was in fact one of the ten trials with which G-d tested Abraham’s faith (Sanhedrin 111a).

Interestingly, given the fact that Abraham knew about the promise and they didn’t, he could have been more forthright and forceful about his right to acquire the land. However, we see that despite Abraham’s knowledge of the promise, he submitted his request in a most unassuming manner. Thus the Midrash notes: “G-d said to Abraham, ‘You humbled yourself before them; I shall make you a lord and prince over them!’”

Where do we see this expressed in the exchange between them?

Abraham says, “I am an alien and resident among you, grant me an estate for a burial site with you that I may bury my dead from before me”. The Hittites respond by saying, “Hear us, my lord: You are a prince of G-d in our midst; in the choicest of our burial places bury your dead” (Gen. 23:4).

Not withstanding Abraham’s humility-inspired, Divinely-elicited Hittite homage, presumably Abraham knew of the high regard with which the Hittites held both him and Sarah. In fact, Sarah was so called because she similarly was a ‘princess of all mankind’ (“Sar” being related to sovereign). So why did he refer to himself as merely an alien and resident? Surely Abraham was not guilty of an obsequious show of humility. So what was he getting at by calling himself an alien resident?

Abraham was expressing the dual role that every Jew in exile must play. On the one hand, he is a physical resident of his country, and must contribute to its welfare. But on the other hand, he should always view himself as a spiritual outsider, for his allegiance to G-d and commitment to the Torah take precedence over anything else. Therefore a Jew must always be prepared to stand alone if the surrounding culture conflicts with his unique responsibility and destiny as a Jew.

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