Sarah has died suddenly, and Abraham needs a place for her burial. He knows what he wants — and that’s a start. The patriarch has chosen a cave near his home in Kiryat Arba. He asks around to see who owns the cave. But Abraham does not show his hand. He simply asks the sons of Heth for a gravesite.
So far, so good, says Amrik Virk, a British consultant. Virk teaches his clients to first “educate yourself on the industry you’re buying into.”
Knowledge is power, and equipping yourself with this knowledge will give you a solid platform to negotiate from. [From “How to successfully negotiate a business purchase. Amrik Virk. Oct. 25, 2022. Amrik Virk | Swoop UK (swoopfunding.com)]
But the sons of Heth don’t want to butt heads with Abraham. They didn’t forget how a few years back, Abraham saved all of the Land of Canaan by defeating Nimrod and his allies. They didn’t forget how he prayed for even the most evil of cities, Sodom. Heth’s response: Take anything you want. It’s on the house.
“Listen to us, my lord; you are a prince of God in our midst; in the choicest of our graves bury your dead. None of us will withhold his grave from you to bury your dead.” [Genesis. 23:5-6]
A lesser man would have said thank you and buried Sarah right there and then. But Abraham wants to buy rather than accept a freebee. And he knows who will sell — Ephron, the son of Zohar, in the crowd watching the exchange with Heth. And Ephron repeats what the sons of Heth said.
“No, my lord, listen to me. I have given you the field, and the cave that is in it, I have given it to you. Before the eyes of the sons of my people, I have given it to you; bury your dead.” [Genesis. 23:11]
And on and on it goes until a deal is reached. This is the only place in the Five Books of Moses that literally quotes from what seems to be a transcript of a business meeting. The entire affair could have been summed up in one verse: “And Abraham bought the Machpeleh [double cave] and buried Sarah.”
But our weekly Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, was telling us something that our friend Virk would not approve. Abraham wanted the cave and he was in no mood to haggle. His aim was to purchase a piece of Canaan not only for Sarah but for the Jewish people who would arrive nearly 400 years later. And he wanted the purchase written in a deed so that nobody could later claim that Abraham and his descendants were frauds.
Here’s how others work: In 1803, the United States bought from France 828,000 square miles in what was known as the Louisiana Purchase. The area would become one-third of the size of the entire continental United States. It was the greatest real estate deal in history — costing the American taxpayer only $15 million, or $18 per square mile.
There was only one problem. France wasn’t the owner. The lion’s share of territory belonged to Indian tribes. But President Thomas Jefferson wasn’t going to buy anything from the Indians. The Louisiana Purchase was meant to stop Britain or any other colonial power from staking a claim. The Indians would be taken care of later — through broken treaties and massacres.
But that was merely the prelude. In 1867, Washington bought Alaska from Russia. Alaska was cold but consisted of nearly 600,000 square miles of the most valuable of resources — gold, oil, timber. The price: $7.2 million, or two cents an acre. The czar was worried that Russia would meet with the same fate as Mexico, which a few years earlier refused a U.S. demand for what is today Texas, Arizona and California. A two-year war took care of that, and all of the territory was obtained by America for free.
Washington didn’t call this pillage and murder. It termed the expansion “manifest destiny,” the religious belief that white people were meant to crush everybody else and establish a country from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you build an empire.
Then came the question of how do you keep an empire? George Kennan was asked that after World War II, when the United States became the only superpower, and one with nuclear weapons. Kennan was seen as a dove, a liberal who preached world peace and harmony.
But in 1948, safe in the hallways of power, Kennan wrote Policy Planning Study 23, which addressed a question that continues to plague Washington until this very day: How does a country with six percent of the world’s population keep some 50 percent of global wealth for itself?
Kennan’s recommendations were completely the opposite of what he preached: America must rule the world. The biggest problem would be the democracies where people would have a say. Kennan called for undermining democracies, coopting foreign politicians and elites and seizing anything of value. In Guatemala, one US company, United Fruit, controlled 533,000 acres — backed by thugs who tortured and executed anybody who asked why. That, too, came from Kennan’s playbook: Anybody who opposed America’s policies would be deemed communists.
“In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment,” Kennan wrote. “Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity.”
That was not Abraham’s way. His love was for G-d and mankind rather than money and power. His goal was to stake a claim to even a small part of the land. It would all be official. Generations later, the nations would claim that Abraham or his descendants stole the caves, stole Hebron, stole the Land of Israel.
But Abraham and his children would always have the deed.
In the end, what would be known as the Cave of the Patriarchs would be sold by Ephron for 400 pieces of silver. Abraham would seem to have been cheated, considering how much America paid for their country. But Abraham wanted a deal regardless of the cost. The money was not important. The future was.
And Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham weighed out to Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, accepted by the merchant. [Genesis. 23:16]