The deed is the key

Abraham had long worked to liberate the land of his forefather Shem from the occupying power Ham. He established a domicile in Alon Moreh, Bet El, Beersheba and Hebron. G-d had promised that Abraham’s children would receive the entire Land of Canaan and spread west, east, north and south.

For decades, G-d’s promise seemed distant. Abraham had spent most of his years wandering the land, stopping in Egypt and Philistine. Meanwhile, he raised a family and brought many to G-d.

When Sarah died suddenly, Abraham saw a challenge and an opportunity. He would acquire a burial ground that would mark a stake in what would be known as the Land of Israel. Everybody was offering the widower a plot. But Abraham had something greater in mind. He wanted to bury Sarah in the Cave of Machpela on the outskirts of Hebron. He knew something that the locals didn’t: the cave was the resting place of Adam and Eve.

“I am a stranger and an inhabitant with you. Give me burial property with you, so that I may bury my dead from before me.”

Rabbi Samuel Ben Meir, known by his acronym, Rashbam, revered for his scholarship and modesty, writes that Abraham approached the elders of Hebron gingerly. His first question: Could he receive a piece of land in town? He could have easily been told to bury Sarah in her birthplace in far-off Ur Kasdim.

Then came Abraham’s next question: Could he buy a piece of land? The land he wanted belonged to Ephron the Hittite, the chieftain of Hebron. There was a double cave at the edge of Ephron’s field and Abraham was ready to pay “full price.”

Ephron introduced himself and told Abraham that he could have the cave for free. The crowd would serve as witness to this promise.

But Abraham refused. He insisted on paying Ephron’s price. The chieftain responded with a sum regarded by the commentators as sky-high.

“My lord, listen to me; a [piece of] land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is it between me and you? Bury your dead.”

Abraham didn’t hesitate. He took out a jar of silver and a scale and handed over 400 shekels.

Abraham wasn’t taken for a ride. He was purchasing a stake and knew that the first acquisition would be expensive. He could have taken the property from Ephron for free, but that would not have lasted. As soon as Ephron realized the value of the double cave, he would have come running like any other Indian giver. Instead, there was a sale that could not be reversed.

The deal marked how the patriarchs operated. They would have been justified in liberating the territory occupied by Ham’s descendants by force. Remember the mantra of the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser? “What was taken by force can only be restored by force.”

Instead, the patriarchs and their descendants ensured that their acquisitions would stand up in any court of law. When King David was told of the location of the Temple, he bought the tract from Arauna the Jebusite, who operated a threshing floor on Mount Moriah. David would have encountered no resistance in invoking divine right and seizing the holiest spot on Earth. Instead, he decided to follow Abraham’s example.

Jeremiah watched as the armies of Babylonia laid siege to Jerusalem. It was something he had long warned the corrupt kings of Judea. On the eve of the enemy invasion, the prophet called on the people to buy property and keep the deeds safe. True, the Jews would soon be captured and exiled. But they would return with their documents to reclaim the Land of Israel.

In the late 19th century, the Rothschild family began to buy what amounted to 100,000 dunams — the size of about 15 percent of the State of Israel — in what is today Jordan. For a while, the Bedouin tribes, including King Abdullah, cooperated, telling themselves that they would keep the money and later kill the Jews. In 1922, the British banned Jewish settlement east of the Jordan River and expelled the several hundred pioneers. Until the eve of World War II, however, Zionist leaders did not shelve their plans to return.

West of the Jordan River, Jews bought property throughout Hebron in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1929, 69 Jews were massacred and their survivors expelled by the British. For more than 55 years, the State of Israel has not allowed the Jews to reclaim their land. But they still have their deeds.

Abraham and his descendants were repeatedly promised by G-d that they would give birth to a nation that would live in the Holy Land. That promise would never be forgotten. In the meanwhile, they would use every opportunity to redeem the occupied land. Abraham’s purchase of what became known as the Cave of the Patriarchs could not have been more benign. It was a tiny piece of land that would be used to bury his spouse in an unmarked cave. Nobody would have known that this was separate from Ephron’s holdings.

But the Cave of the Patriarchs would mark the beginning of the return of Shem’s descendants to their land. It would take thousands of years and involve numerous betrayals by those who sold them property, but the Children of Israel would keep coming.

And when they arrive, they will all have deeds in their hand.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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