This is a hopefully daily series of short reflections in English on the daily chapter of Tanach in the (wonderful, wonderful) 929 Project. The initiative, and the ideas and opinions expressed here, are my own. If you haven’t heard of 929, you can learn more at 929.org.il
Whatever your political bent, it’s hard to escape the bitter irony that some of the places where Jewish ownership and sovereignty are most called into question today are precisely the places where the Torah goes out of its way to tell the story of their purchase. First among these purchases is the cave of Machpela in chapter 23.
But alongside this irony, it is fascinating to note that the very act of Avraham’s purchase highlights his refusal to fully act as owner of the land that he has been promised. Although the residents of Het call him a Prince of God, Avraham acts in a manner so humble as to border on the servile, bowing to the people, and insisting on paying full price for land that he is offered for free. From the outset, Avraham defines his relationship to the land which dictates his self-effacing attitude as that of a ‘stranger and resident’, not as a lord. With this phrase, Avraham anticipates the attitude to the land that God aims to impress upon the Jewish people as a whole when we enter and conquer it. With the very same phrase, ‘for you are strangers and residents’ (Vayikra 25:23), God explains the rationale behind the institutions of Shemita and Yovel, whose purpose is to ensure that, no matter how much sovereignty and ownership we enjoy, we must always remember to act with the humility of the stranger and resident, for the whole land is God’s. In today’s chapter, Avraham is the first one to teach us this first principle of sovereignty, a principle all the more relevant in our days of renewed Jewish sovereignty- you are only ready to own this land when you are prepared to act, not as an owner, but as a humble ‘stranger and resident.’