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Ambiguous Statements I

By Rabbi Daniel Travis

"And Efron said, “No my master, listen to me. I want to give you the field as a present...What is a field worth four hundred shekel between you and me?” ...And Avraham listened to Efron and he weighed the amount of silver that he had promised Efron in front of the people of Cheth." (Bereshith 23:11, 15-16)

Efron’s ostentatious words amounted to absolutely nothing when he accepted payment in full for his property. He remains the archetype of the wicked who make grandiose promises but wind up doing very little. In contrast, the actions of the righteous almost always exceed what they say beforehand (1).

Many aspects of a person’s world outlook manifest themselves in the course of their everyday conversations. The righteous, in their great humility, recognize their limitations and constantly express this in their speech and actions. The Chofetz Chaim, author of several books, would not sell a book without checking it over first for mistakes. Once he asked his daughter to check ten books and she told him that she was busy, but in an hour she would gladly check ten times that amount. An hour later she came back, and to her surprise there were one hundred books on the table. The Chofetz Chaim meant to teach her that even a casual promise should be taken seriously.

Our Sages taught us that we should teach ourselves to say, “I don’t know (2).” Indeed we must educate ourselves to do this, for in many instances we believe that we have absolute clarity about a given situation when in actuality we really do not. This is certainly true regarding the future – which only God Himself can shape and control. We often lack important information even concerning the past and the present, and that prevents us from seeing the whole picture. Only by constantly turning to God in prayer can one hope to make accurate decisions.

1. Rashi 23:16. See also related essays entitled “Talk Is Cheap,” (Page 95 on Bereshith 18:5,7 and “Ambiguous Statements II” (page 282).
2. Brachoth 4b.

Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and



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