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    Parashat Haye-Sara
    tells the story of
    Avraham’s search
    for a burial plot for
    his wife, Sara. We
    read that Avraham purchased the site of
    Me’arat Ha’machpela in Hevron from a
    man named Efron, who charged Avraham
    the exorbitant price of 400 silver coins
    In commenting on this incident, the
    Sages speak very critically of Efron,
    ascribing to him qualities such as greed,
    selfishness and egotism. He is referred
    to in the Midrash as a “Rasha” – an evil
    person – who deserves condemnation for
    his conduct with respect to the sale of
    Me’arat Ha’mechpela.
    What did Efron do that invited such harsh
    criticism? Why did the Rabbis look upon
    him as a “Rasha” for charging a high
    price for the land? Is the Torah opposed to
    real-estate transactions? Is it forbidden to
    ask a steep price and then accept payment
    when the buyer accepts that price?
    The story is told of a Rabbi who walked
    with his student and said that he wishes

    to show him an exceedingly kindhearted
    and generous person. He brought the
    student to the window of restaurant,
    and they saw an enormous facility that
    seats three hundred guests, with dozens
    of customers sitting, being served and
    enjoying their tasty, satisfying meals.
    “The owner of this restaurant,” the Rabbi
    remarked, “is a righteous man. Look
    how he gives such large amounts of fine,
    delicious food to so many people, in such
    a luxurious and comfortable room!”
    “But Rabbi,” the student replied, “the man
    charges money for the meals he serves.
    And the money he charges does not only
    cover the cost of the food, service and
    overhead; he takes a large profit!”
    “Of course he takes a profit,” the Rabbi
    answered. “Otherwise, he would not be
    able to serve people tomorrow. Doesn’t
    he have the right to live, to support his
    family? This does not undermine the
    extent of the Hesed (kindness) that he
    performs. He does a wonderful service
    for hundreds of people, and this is a great
    Hesed even if he receives a profit for it!”

    This same Rabbi used
    to speak of the great
    kindness of the baker
    who rises early in the
    morning to bake bread
    and pastries for his
    community, providing
    a critical service for
    everybody in the town.
    Of course they pay
    him for it – because
    otherwise he would
    be unable to continue
    providing this service
    the next day!
    This is the proper approach to take
    towards employment and business
    ventures. A person has every right to
    charge money for his services, but he
    must also look upon his work as a way of
    helping and serving people. In whatever
    capacity a person works, he should
    approach his vocation as a way to impact
    meaningfully on society and act kindly
    towards others.
    This was not Efron’s attitude towards
    his real estate dealings. Revealingly, the

    numerical value of his name “Efron”
    (when spelled without a “Vav,” as the
    Torah spells it in the aforementioned
    verse) is 400 – the price he charged for
    Me’arat Ha’machpela. His very essence
    was defined by the profits he earned, by
    his wealth. His work was solely about
    earning money, and not about helping
    other people. Quite understandably,
    then, the Sages describe him as a greedy,
    selfish person, somebody who concerned
    himself only with making a fortune for
    himself, and not with the needs of others.