And Avraham rose from beside his dead and spoke to the Bínei Cheth
saying, ďÖSell me property for a burial place.Ē
(Bereshith 23:3, 4)
The Zohar discusses Avrahamís approach to purchasing the burial plot at
length, explaining business techniques that we can learn from this
encounter. Avraham realized that if he would have spoken directly to Efron
(the owner of the plot he wanted) first, showing Efron that he was
interested in buying a specific piece of land for Sarahís burial, Efron
would have driven the price considerably higher before consenting to sell
it. This is why Avraham initiated his dealings with the Bínei Cheth, the
residents of the city. Once the Bínei Cheth agreed that Avraham should
have the plot he sought, Efron no longer had the upper hand in the
bargaining, and he was not in a position to ask an exorbitant price for
his land (1).
How ethical was Avrahamís approach in this instance? Wasnít he on some
level tricking Efron into selling the land for a cheaper price? The Zohar
tells us that Avrahamís behavior was proper and even praiseworthy. Knowing
that Efron was money-hungry, Avraham took action to save himself from
being swindled. Had Efron realized initially how much his land was worth
to Avraham, he certainly would have demanded an exorbitant price,
confident that Avraham would have paid him what he asked. The fact that
someone wants or needs a certain item, even if it has tremendous
sentimental value, does not give the seller the right to charge a higher
price for it. Avraham had every right to protect himself (2).
When faced with similar situations, we are allowed to take steps to
protect our financial interests. When Rav Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld was
missing the Tractate Eruvin from his set of Gemara, he realized that if he
asked for that particular volume in a bookstore, it was likely that the
storekeeper would charge him double or triple its actual worth. He
therefore entered a store and asked if the storekeeper had an individual
volume of Gemara Brachoth for sale. The storekeeper replied that he
didnít, but that he did have a single copy of Gemara Eruvin, and since he
didnít think Rav Zonenfeld wanted that volume, he offered it at a low
price. In this case, Rav Zonenfeld was not cheating the storekeeper;
rather he was preventing himself from being cheated, and his behavior is
considered completely honest (3).
1. Zohar 127a.
2. Heard from Rav Tzvi Shpitz.
3. Hizharu BíMamon Chavrechem, p. 198.