In this week’s parasha we read the story of Abraham’s search for a burial place for his beloved wife, Sarah. The Torah gives us a highly detailed portrayal of Abraham’s quest. An aged Abraham approaches the Hittites to inquire after a burial plot. The Hittites, familiar with Abraham’s great deeds and power, offer him a burial place free of cost. Abraham denies the offer, choosing not to use his fame and power to acquire the land. Rather, he asks that the Hittites bring him to Ephron, the son of Zohar, so that he might buy a burial place from him.
There, in front of many witnesses, Ephron offers to give Abraham the field and cave, again for free. Once more, Abraham turns down the chance to use his privilege and power for his own gain and insists on paying the full price of the land. Ephron names his price, 400 shekels, and Abraham accepts. The Torah details how Abraham weighs out the 400 shekels of silver, “according to the weight current among the merchants.”
Why couldn’t the Torah just have stated where Sarah was buried? Why the need to go into so much detail about the offers, the price, the weighing of the silver, and the purchase?
One answer is that in a time of great personal loss and pain, Abraham is nonetheless meticulous about upholding transparency, honesty, and ethics in his business dealings. He passes several opportunities to exploit his privilege and power and take what is not rightfully his. The values and principles through which his descendants will bless the world, justice and righteousness, are not suspended in hard times. Rather, it’s in these times when ethics and righteousness are of most importance. That is why the Torah goes to such great lengths to describe the high ethical and transparency standard Abraham held in this story.
Every time we hire an employee, purchase a car, or bid on an online auction we enter relationships with our fellow human beings that hold tremendous potential for power imbalances, dishonesty, and exploitation. Let us strive towards Abraham’s example, upholding honesty, transparency, and fairness at work, in the home, and in the communities where we live. Transparency and ethical behavior are not luxury items – they are the way we are to lead our lives in times easy and hard. That is how we ensure we are children of Abraham and protectors of the blessing – to keep the ways of God and do righteousness and justice.