Wednesday, 13 April 2016

How to Negotiate with the Arabs

 In the portion of Torah read this week we recount the change of ownership of the Burial Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, passing from the Canaanite family of Heth to our forefather Abraham. From this narrative we are able to elicit clear guidelines for events taking place in our time here in Israel. 

Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron, 1836
At this time the Arabs are intent to take control over the Burial Cave of our Patriarchs; we have an instruction, that in the first instance to attempt to negotiate in a peaceful manner that this location remain in our possession.

Should this approach not achieve its goal, then we must battle to retain ownership!

In this week’s Torah portion reading we have a parallel chain of events. Initially when Abraham arrived to bury his wife Sarah in the Patriarchal Cave, the family of Heth agreed that she be buried there. However they made it clear that the ownership of this location remains theirs. The Torah portion continues to tell the line taken by Abraham whereby he took over ownership both of the Cave and surrounding area, as the verse says: ‘he took possession both of the field, the burial Cave located there, and the trees of the field’.

The first line of action taken was that ‘Abraham bowed down before the citizens, the descendants of Heth’. The Midrash recounts that this was not the correct approach. The purpose of the Midrash is certainly not to recount the failings of our forefather Abraham; rather the purpose of the story is that we gain instruction, namely - that it is forbidden to conduct ourselves in this manner! It is forbidden to bow down and to fall down to the feet of a gentile in order to take possession of the Cave. To teach us - the descendants of Abraham - how we must conduct ourselves. The story continues that after bowing down Avraham said ‘I am both a stranger and permanent resident here with you’: if you are in agreement with my request then I will remain a stranger. However, should you refuse I will make use of my inherent rights and take possession by law, because it was G-d who spoke to me saying ‘to your progeny will I give this Land’. After this Ephron, the head of the family, sold the Cave to Avraham. The message for our time is as follows: when the Arabs hear from us this powerful approach, immediately will they fall in line. Why, one may ask, should we speak in such a harsh manner? Would it not be better to enter negotiations with gentle words? Rather, one is obligated to tell him, that since this Cave belonged to the first man Adam and his wife Chava [Eve], then passed on to Abraham and Sarah, then to Isaac and Rivka, then on to Yaakov and Leah, - therefore does the ownership belongs to their progeny, and not to the descendants of Chet! The Torah come to teach us that such negotiations will not bear the anticipated results! Avraham did not take this soft line of approach, knowing full well that however sweet his words - they will not have their desired effect. The only way to negotiate is to state with strength and clarity: ‘should you refuse to accept our demands - we will take our lawful possession’. When he hears this, that we are preparing to take affirmative action, placing our reliance on G-d that it was He Who gave this Land to the Jewish people - only then will he buckle under and accept 400 silver shekels by way of payment and give over the Burial Cave of the Patriarchs to the Jewish people.  
Public talk Shabbat Parshat Chaye Sarah 1969