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Rabbi Rothman on Parashat Chayei Sarah

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Car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (played by William H. Macy) in Fargo. (Working Title Films photo)

Of the 10 tests Abraham had, commentaries state the most difficult was to purchase a grave for his wife, Sarah.

Abraham came back from the Akedah to find his wife deceased. It should have been simple to bury his wife, as God had given him all of Israel. Still, he had to speak with Ephron to purchase his own land. This was the final test.

That this should be considered more challenging than sacrificing his son is difficult to understand. Here’s why it was, indeed, the hardest:

Ephron’s character was how many of us think of a stereotypical used car salesman – as though they are the worst type of person to negotiate with. The customer knows he is being ripped off and responds in kind. After all, if he’s not acting like a mensch with me, why should I act like a mensch with him?

I was recently in the supermarket and was barked at after asking the person bagging my groceries not to overload the bag. “Why did you talk like that?” I asked.

“I had a hard day!” he responded.

Abraham returned from the Akedah to find his wife dead, and now the emotionally drained widower had to buy a grave, and who did he have to deal with? Ephron, who was worse than a used car dealer!

But how did Abraham act? With respect. He offered no excuse of “I’ve had a bad day! My wife just died!” Abraham remembered that Ephron is human and that he must treat him like the image of God that he is.

Having a bad day is not an excuse. How we treat the defenceless, the poor, the elderly or a stranger is the measuring stick of a person. We can’t treat others poorly, no matter what is happening in our lives.

The ultimate test of Abraham was not sacrificing his son, but rather how he would treat others when he was in pain. We need to do the same.

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