Monday, October 29, 2007

Saving Face at Makhpeila Place


  1. Avraham announces his intention to acquire a burial-place for Sara from the people of Hheit.
  2. The local representatives declare that any of their own grave plots are available for Avraham's use.
  3. Avraham then identifies the owner of the land he wants — ‘Efron ben Tzohhar — and states his intention to pay the full value of the land.
  4. ‘Efron then protests that he is giving Avraham the land for free.
  5. Avraham repeats his insistence on paying for the land, fair and square.
  6. At this point, ‘Efron continues to protest, with a strange addition — "What is a piece of land worth 400 silver sheqels between you and me?"
  7. And then Avraham weighs out the silver and pays ‘Efron for the land that he had just insisted multiple times that he is giving Avraham for free.
  8. The deal is done. The field and cave of Makhpeila now belong to Avraham.


What the heck is going on here?

This is what the sociologists call Saving Face.

Avraham is a mourning, bereaved husband looking for a burial plot for his deceased wife. How could anyone charge him money for land that he needs to bury her? And so, Beney Hheit offer Avraham their own lands for free. When ‘Efron is identified as the owner of the particular piece of real estate that Avraham is interested in, he reiterates the general offer. Avraham can have the land for free. Anything else would be barbaric. Avraham, however, wants to pay for the land. He offers to pay the full price, as is only fair.

Avraham can't back down from his offer to pay, since that would be reneging on his self-obligation.

‘Efron can't back down from his offer to give the land and cave away for free, because that would be uncivilized reneging on his generosity.

So what does ‘Efron do?

He tells Avraham how much the land is worth without actually asking him for the money. This way, they both save face. No one has to say anything that would contradict what they've already declared to be their intention. Avraham pays ‘Efron, the national representatives of Beney Hheit witness the transaction, and everything's done honestly.

And no one had to "lose face" in the process.

4 Comments:

Blogger Lipman said...

Know what? That makes sense. Shkouech!

(Of course it doesn't change the pshat, namely that the passage was written for post-Hegelian secular nationalists who need a proof that Avra'ammavinnu bought Hebron from the Palestinians.)

10/30/2007 5:09 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

If I recall correctly, I think it is in the book "Persian Mirrors" where the author tells a story of a Western journalist who walks into a shop and is really taken by some item. He praises it so lavishly that when he says he wants to buy it, the owner says to him "Please take it". However, as soon as the journalist walks out of the shop, he is chased down by the local police. Apparently, the owner expected the journalist to insist to pay something for the item and it was supposed to open up a negotiation.

10/31/2007 12:22 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

lipman:

thanks!

e-kvetcher:

ack :-O

10/31/2007 3:57 PM  
Blogger Elie said...

I've always liked that pshat. It's clear Ephron had no intention of really giving the land for free.

On a related note, the price he asked, and Avraham paid without hesitation, was about 25 times the fair market value! From the notes in the Living Torah chumash:

"...Abraham therefore paid 20 pounds of silver, or about $400 for the cave. Considering land values at the time, this was highly excessive. Thus, for example, King Omri paid only 6000 shekels for the entire territory of Samaria (1 Kings 16:25), and Jeremiah paid only 17 shekels for a property that was at least as large as Makhpelah Field (Jeremiah 32:9). For comparison, according to the Hammurabi Code of that time, a year's wage for a working man was between six and eight shekels."

10/31/2007 7:16 PM  

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