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In negotiating terms with the Hittite residents of Hebron for a place to bury his wife Sara, Abraham introduces himself as being:
'A stranger, and a citizen' (23:4).
Following Rashi, Abraham uses these words to state his position in the business deal. 'A stranger' - if you wish, I will respect burial land as belonging to you and pay the price for it. But if not, I will be 'a citizen' - I will take it from you 'according to the law', as G-d promised: "I will give this land to your children" (12:7).
Sforno, however, treats 'a stranger and a citizen' as Abraham qualifying himself eligible to buy land. Remember that Abraham made his living as a pastoral nomad, always outside the walls of the city states that made up the Land of Canaan. Only urban residents of Hebron were permitted to purchase real estate in the locality. Thus Abraham declared that although he was currently a stranger, he would - in the future - change his status to residential. He did not elaborate that several centuries would pass before his descendants would do precisely that, on his behalf.
The Sforno's explanation does imply that Abraham showed the Hittites a measure of respect. He sought to get what he need without the use of a veiled threat. He did not cover up who he was; "I am stranger" - a traveller, with a very different way of life to the urbanized Hittites. But he emphasized his determination to fit in, with "I am a citizen".
And indeed, the Hittites waived this objection aside, with "You are prince of G-d amongst us". Yes, you are not one of us - that's obvious, but we see that you are somone special. There was enough good in the Hittites to perceive this travelling herdsman as no ordinary person, but someone on a much higher plane "a prince of G-d", and he was paying an honor to the city by doing business with them. That was enough to cut through the red tape of Hittite land law.
This message is just as valuable today. Jews living openly and unabashadly as Jews according to Torah standards tend to be respected by the non-Jewish populations with whom they come in contact. Not despite their Judaism, but because of their Judaism.
Remember that the ancient Hattian - and later Hittite - civilizations were based in central Turkey, and spread southwards. Millenia later, ninetenth-century Jews living in Jerusalem under the Turks faced the same barrier - only those with Turkish citizenship were allowed to buy land. Land for Nachalat Shiva, one of the first Jerusalem developments outside the walls of the Old City was only made possible as the wife of Aryeh Leib Horowitz - one of the seven developers, was an Ottoman subject. She had to conduct the deal.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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