Parshas Chayei Sarah - Cool, Calm and Collected

By BJLife/Moishy Pruzansky

Posted on 11/01/18

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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The Torah relates that after Sarah passed away, Avraham's intense desire was to give her a proper burial in a place befitting of her greatness - the Ma'aras Hamachpayla. In order to acquire it, he had to first negotiate with Ephron. The process was far from enjoyable. In front of a large crowd that had gathered, Ephron toyed with Avraham in his time of need. First, he informed Avraham that he would give the Ma'aras Hamachpayla to him for free, in order to impress his generosity upon the onlookers. Afterward (in private), he demanded an exorbitant price of one million shekels (Bava Metzia 87a). Ephron made his falsely generous offer for the sole purpose of winning over the masses, who indeed crowned him to be their leader after watching his "charismatic" actions of "caring" for the great Avraham Avinu (Rashi 29:10). Despite knowing all of this, Avraham acted humbly and respectfully towards him - he even bowed to Ephron ceremoniously multiple times.

Rabbeinu Yonah (Avos 5:3) records this as the 10th and final test that Avraham had completed. In fact, the Midrash attests that Avraham's behavior and self-control was so impressive that afterward the Satan himself declared "I NOW know that Avraham Avinu is truly perfect".

How could this episode with Ephron possibly add to Avraham's accomplishments in a way that the other 9 tests couldn't? Additionally, what greater level of greatness did this demonstrate that earned even the Satan's respect?

It has happened to the best of us. At some point, we have all lost our temper. When one thinks about the events that surrounded those few episodes, they will most likely find that they happened at a time of extreme stress, due to one factor or another. Either things at work weren’t going well, or your kids were being exceptionally tough to deal with. The bottom line is that the more stressful factors that one is dealing with, the easier it is to lose control. This vulnerability to lose our temper becomes infinitely compounded in a situation where we perceive a direct attack to and disconcern for our personal dignity.

The test with Ephron was in a league of its own for two reasons. Firstly, R' Frand points out, we must take the events that occurred directly prior to this meeting into consideration. Avraham Avinu had just come off the emotional roller coaster of Akeidas Yitzchak only to discover that his wife of over a century had passed away. He was arguably having the hardest day of his life. To make matters worse, at this point where even a virtuous human being would be at the end of their proverbial rope, he had to deal with Ephron's shenanigans. Many of us can do great acts when when we are feeling up to it, but when we have reached our emotional limit, let's just say that it's not a good idea to start up with or test us. Avraham had every excuse to lose himself and he could have easily justified doing so.

Secondly, when it came to all of the other tests, Avraham was in control and CHOSE to do an incredible act to demonstrate his love for Hashem 1. There is a great feeling of pride and accomplishment that surges through someone when they feel in control and decide to do something heroic. However, when Avraham had to deal with Ephron, he had to sit by while someone else took advantage of him. No matter how great one becomes, it will always be incredibly difficult to remain SILENT and act respectfully when someone has the audacity to toy with you in your time of need. Man tends to have a very low tolerance for chutzpah, especially when it is intentional and to his face.

DESPITE all of this, Avraham Avinu stayed incredibly calm and respectful throughout the entire episode. The Torah even relates that he ceremoniously bowed down to Ephron multiple times. It was this willingness to swallow his pride and act in a respectable and refined manner, no matter how hard things were at the time, that earned him his victory in his final test and respect even in the eyes of the Satan.

Living Inspired

How can we ensure that we never lose our tempers in even the most stressful of circumstances? What was Avraham's secret to doing so? Avraham understood with absolute clarity that EVERYTHING in life is directly from Hashem, including the actions of man. It was through having this mentality that Avraham understood that Ephron didn't have the ability to give him a difficult time or demand an exorbitant price unless Hashem had specifically willed him to do so. Additionally, Avraham worked on making Hashem's presence palpable. Just as someone who is in the presence of others is too embarrassed to act disrespectfully to another, Avraham felt Hashem's presence so acutely that nothing could make him lose his temper.

Mitzvos may be easier when we feel in control. The real test is how you react when you're not in control, and when others do not treat you properly. Will you still be able to remember that Hashem sent this as a test and wants you to be aware of the fact that He is orchestrating everything? Although remaining calm and courteous when someone disrespects you is incredibly difficult, persevering in moments like these is man's GREATEST accomplishment, as Rabbeinu Yonah (ibid.) and the Midrash (ibid.) have illustrated. The reason why this achievement is so great is because it is a concrete action PROVING your belief in Hashem's presence. The good news is that Avraham Avinu has already planted the ability to succeed in this area within our national DNA. May we all merit to follow in his footsteps.

1. Even in regards to the episodes where Sarah was taken by Pharoah and Avimelech, Avraham CHOSE to enter their lands knowing that he had to say that Sarah was his sister, because he understood the risk of Sarah being abducted. Additionally, Pharoah and Avimelech believed that Sarah was Avraham's sister and never intended to attack Avraham's personal honor.