Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Cheshvan 5764 - November 19, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Name Your Price

by Rabbi Y. Spolter

The story is told of a man named Nosson. Nosson was always looking for leniencies when it came to halacha. No matter what the law, he always found the most lenient opinion, squirming his way out of whatever he could. Whenever a discussion pertaining to halacha arose, Nosson would be sure to comment, "You know, there is an opinion that you can be yotzei with only -- " He always made sure not to go beyond the minimal requirements.

Nosson eventually got older and passed away. His soul ascended to the heavens, where two angels escorted him to a large and lavish banquet hall. "This is it," he thought, "the great feast of livyoson that I've worked for all my life."

Nosson licked his chops in anticipation of the scrumptious feast that was to come. Suddenly, a waiter appeared, holding a dish covered by a large napkin. Nosson couldn't wait to behold the marvelous first course. What could it be? Roast duck? Perhaps a delicious soup or something exotic. Nosson loved exotic cuisine! The waiter politely murmured, "Your meal, sir," as he uncovered the dish and placed before Nosson -- a fresh can of tuna fish!

Shocked and dismayed, Nosson cried out, "Tuna fish? There must be some mistake! I learned all about the great seudas livyoson. It's supposed to be the most delicious and pleasurable experience imaginable -- not a can of tuna fish! What's going on over here?"

Just then, a voice called out from above and said, "Nosson, don't you know, there's an opinion that you can be yotzei the seudas livyoson with a can of tuna fish?"


How much are our actions really worth? We decide. In parshas Chayei Soroh the Torah teaches us that the value of our actions is dependant on our perspective, and that a person's actions can reveal what his true values are. The parsha begins with the death of Soroh Imeinu in the city of Kiryat Arba. Avrohom Ovinu approaches the local inhabitants, bnei Ches, in hopes of buying a burial ground for Soroh and for his family. The owner of the choice plot in Kiryat Arba, the cave of Machpeiloh, is Efron ben Tsochar.

Efron graciously offers the entire field in which the cave is located, to Avrohom, free of charge. But as soon as Avrohom insists on paying him, Efron asks for an enormous amount of money. Avrohom gladly pays him, and goes ahead with burying Soroh in the cave. When Efron accepts the money from Avrohom Ovinu, a peculiar thing happens. Suddenly, the Torah changes the spelling of his name from "Efron" (with a vov) to "Efrn" (without a vov). What is the Torah hinting to us by leaving the vov out of Efron's name? And why in this particular posuk is his name written with fewer letters?

When Avrohom Ovinu came to the people of Ches to request a burial plot, he was treated with the utmost respect. They called him their master and their lord. They even closed all of their stores to pay respect to Soroh, and to Avrohom Ovinu in his time of mourning. The Torah goes out of its way to make mention of them time and time again, and the Midrash learns from their behavior the great merit of doing business for a tzaddik. Their actions were immortalized, as they became instrumental to teaching a Torah lesson.

Efron was one of the most important people in Kiryat Arba. When Avrohom Ovinu asked to buy the cave that was situated on his plot of land, he was being offered a very unique opportunity. Supplying the burial place for Soroh Imeinu, and subsequently all of the Ovos Hakedoshim and their wives, should have been considered a great honor. Had Efron approached the situation with this perspective, his name would have been forever associated with this holy site. Instead, he let his greed get in the way.

In the presence of his entire city, Efron made it appear as if he was the world's greatest do-gooder. He proudly announced that he was willing to give his entire lot to Avrohom Ovinu, with no hopes of compensation. But when it came to his private dealings, between him and Avrohom, suddenly there was an exorbitant price to pay. As soon as Avrohom Ovinu offered Efron money for the Mearah, he slyly replied "What's a piece of land worth 400 silver coins between you and me?"

On the surface, this statement seemed to be an honest offer, "Here, take the field that's worth 400 silver coins, for nothing." But Avrohom understood what Efron was truly insinuating, "Give me 400 shekel kesef -- between you and me -- and the land is yours. Otherwise, it's mine!"

"And Avrohom heard what Efron was saying" and he gave him the 400 shekel kesef. (posuk 16, see RSHBM, Bovo Metzia 87a). Ephron's price was way beyond the actual value of the land being sold. He knew that Avrohom Ovinu would pay any price, and he took full advantage of the situation. Like a good politician, in public he preached righteousness and good will. But his actions revealed his true colors. He valued only money and honor. "A rosho says a lot but does little -- this is Ephron." (Gen. ibid.)

Ephron was interested in only one thing: "What can I get out of this?" What he didn't realize was that his gain was truly his loss. As soon as Efron took the 400 silver coins, the Torah took the vav out of his name. What does this mean? The gematria (numerical value) of Efron without a vav is 400. When he took the money, Efron became 400 shekel kesef. He had sold himself.

Efron was presented with an opportunity for greatness. He could have been eternally remembered as a prime example of loving-kindness. Instead, he chose material gain. The result of this was that he lost his self-worth. His actions revealed his true values, and the Torah made this clear for everyone to see. From Efron's flaw we can learn a lesson about one of the most basic human frailties. It is a lesson about how we can become so involved in our worldly pursuits that we may lose sight of what is truly valuable and important. The gemora teaches us that a fool ("shoteh") is someone who doesn't appreciate the value of what is given to him. If you hand him precious gems, he will throw them away as if they were pebbles. In this sense, Chazal say that a person never commits a sinful act before being overcome by foolishness. If one lives with a constant awareness of the true value of mitzvos, he will never allow himself to slip out of his hands. It is only the "shtus" of making the incorrect evaluation that allows us to trade diamonds for pebbles. Whenever he visited America, a certain Rosh Yeshiva used to stay at the home of an old friend. It was on one particular visit that as he was sitting at the Shabbos table his friend's son, Yossi, turned off a light switch in the next room. "Yossi," his father scolded him with a stern face, "You mustn't turn the light off -- it's Shabbos."

Later in the meal, little Yossi was running around the room, and he inadvertently knocked a cup off of the table, sending it crashing down onto the floor. The father was livid. His face turned beet red.

"Yossi!" he yelled "That's fine china - we'll never be able to replace it! Bad boy!" With a sharp smack he sent Yossi to his room, crying.

The Rosh Yeshiva later commented that this man sent a very powerful message to his son: Shabbos is important, but money is really important. What was it that led Efron to make this grave mistake, selling himself short of potential greatness? Efron's name, when spelled without a vov, is also equal to "Ra Ayin." Literally, this means a bad eye. "Nivhal lehone ish ra ayin velo yeida ki choseir yevo'enu" -- "An evil-eyed man will scramble to gather riches, but unbeknownst to him he is actually causing himself a loss."(Mishlei 28,22)

"This is Efron" (Midrash). It was Efron's tainted vision, his inability to perceive life in the proper light, which brought about his downfall. His "bad eye" led him to the false perception that greed would bring him good fortune. But in truth, he only lost out. He lost his vov, he lost his potential self.

The opportunities for spiritual growth are endless. To get the most out of life one has to be a good investor, an educated consumer. Every mitzvah, every tefilloh, and every word of Torah is potentially a priceless asset. But it is up to us to name the price. If we place our spiritual goals before our worldly pursuits, then they become truly valuable and we can become truly great. But if we confuse our mundane pursuits with the true commodities of life, we just might be trading a scrumptious feast for a can of tuna fish.


Questions for Discussion:

What are some mitzvos that we perform on a regular basis? Is there anything we can do to perform these mitzvos with a greater appreciation of their true value?

What was the most important thing you did yesterday? Last week? In your life?

What are some ways, through our behavior, that we can instill in our children a feeling for the primary importance for Torah and mitzvos?

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