Yoni Mozeson
Yoni Mozeson

Midrash Tanchuma Behar – The two greediest people in the Torah

Can you guess?

We are on the subject of greed because the Parsha deals with, among other things, those who lend with interest and sell produce that was forbidden to be grown during שמיטה (the Sabbatical year).

The first person that Midrash Tanchuma discusses is the third person to inhabit the Earth – Cain.

Reframing the story of Cain and Hevel

The Midrash suggests that one of Cain’s motives for killing Hevel was greed. Think of it, there was only one person between him and controlling the whole world. After all, settling for only half of the word was an unthinkable  compromise. The world was just not big enough for the two of them.

The next contender for the world’s greediest person constitutes a totally different type of greed, It’s when a salesperson has a customer over the barrel. They desperately want to buy his product – at any cost. They must have it.

Overcharging for the Cave of the Patriarchs

If you recall, Efrone first offered Avraham the cave for free. However, once he realized that Avraham was adamant about owning it outright, the price went through the roof.

 אֲדֹנִ֣י שְׁמָעֵ֔נִי אֶרֶץ֩ אַרְבַּ֨ע מֵאֹ֧ת שֶֽׁקֶל־כֶּ֛סֶף בֵּינִ֥י וּבֵֽינְךָ֖ מַה־הִ֑וא וְאֶת־מֵתְךָ֖ קְבֹֽר׃

“My lord, do hear me! A piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver—what is that between you and me? Go and bury your dead.” (Genesis 23:150)

Be like God who does not take advantage of people. 

Midrash Tanchuma makes this most unusual assertion about God’s relationship with Avraham:

שֶׁאַף אֲנִי מָכַרְתִּי הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ לְאַבְרָהָם וְלֹא הוֹנֵיתִיאוֹתוֹ. חָזַר וְהִקְנָה אוֹתוֹ לִי

“For I also sold the whole world to Avraham and did not take advantage of him. He then went back and sold it to Me,”

When was Avraham sold the whole world? If you recall Avraham’s nephew, Lot, was captured in the war between the four kings and the five kings. Avraham then led a battle against the victor of that world war and was victorious. In the minds of the people, that made Avraham the king of the world.  The commentators add that they wanted to declare Abraham a god as well.

בָּר֤וּךְ אַבְרָם֙ לְאֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן קֹנֵ֖ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃

“Blessed be Avraham of God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” (Genesis 14:19)

God demonstrates how goodness can win over greed

Perhaps God used the particular kind of greed exhibited by Cain and Efron, to teach the world a lesson.

After all, Cain’s greed was based on the inability to share the world with his brother. Yet we see that, after the war between the 4 kings and the 5 kings, God set up Avraham to be declared king of the world.

Efron cheated his customer who was willing to buy property at any cost.  Avraham was passionately pursuing and spreading the belief in one God. If God wanted to “take advantage” of Avraham, He need not have rewarded him so richly since he already dedicated his life to God without any rewards. Yet God did not withhold any rewards from Avraham.

Avraham turned his military victory into a teachable moment

Although people thought that Avraham’s spectacular victory afforded him the right to be both the king and a god, Avraham rejected both offers. He publicly declared that the world already has a king – namely, G-d –  and he did not want to rule over anyone or take their possessions:

אִם־מִחוּט֙ וְעַ֣ד שְׂרֽוֹךְ־נַ֔עַל וְאִם־אֶקַּ֖ח מִכָּל־אֲשֶׁר־לָ֑ךְ׃

“I will not take so much as a thread or a sandal strap of what is yours;” (Genesis 14:23)

Avraham is known to have passed 10 tests involving tremendous faith and personal sacrifice. Yet this incident isn’t specifically listed as being one of those tests. Apparently the pursuit of  power and wealth which has driven just about every leader in human history was a nonstarter for Avraham. Midrash Tanchuma has provided us yet another dimension to our remarkable forefather, Avraham.

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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