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Promises Kept

Thursday, 12 November, 2020 - 7:49 pm

America just experienced an historic election. No matter what brand of politics you subscribe to, you would agree that this election garnered the most attention – and participants – in over a century. It’s uplifting to see so many people excited about partaking in our civic process.

This election has torn at the seams of our country. I pray that we can come together.

Although we are still living through unique moments of this election, some people are probably sighing a sigh of relief that the campaigning period is over. The endless ads, the incessant and redundant news cycle, and the shrill chatter can be grinding on our psyches.

During campaign season we hear lots of promises. Time will tell whether those elected will live up to the hype of the campaign trail. Or, perhaps they will manage to forget all their promises.


In the beginning of this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah, Avraham requests from the people of Chet to sell him the cave of Machpelah to bury his wife Sarah. Avraham says of the property of a certain fellow named Ephron, “That he may give me the Machpelah Cave, which belongs to him, which is at the end of his field; for a full price let him give it to me in your midst for burial property."

Ephron responds, "No, my lord, listen to me. I have given you the field, and the cave that is in it, I have given it to you. Before the eyes of the sons of my people, I have given it to you; bury your dead."

Avraham insists on paying for the field rather than receiving it as a gift: "But, if only you would listen to me. I am giving the money for the field; take it from me, and I will bury my dead there."

In the end, Ephron agrees, saying, “My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is it between me and you? Bury your dead."

Avraham pays the four hundred shekel – top dollar, actually a rip-off – and buries Sarah.

Initially, Ephron championed his generous offer, “Before the eyes of the sons of my people, I have given it to you.” In public Ephron promises a gift to Avraham.

However, upon Avraham’s insistence of a sale rather than a gift, Ephron charged Avraham the most he could, which Avraham readily paid.

The Talmud observes that Ephron was the prototype of promising big and not delivering. When everyone was looking he made a bold pledge. But when the PR campaign was over and it was time for action, he not only accepted money, but also overcharged.

In today’s vernacular we might simply refer to him as a politician.

The Talmud in Ethics of the Fathers suggests that the righteous mode of conduct is, “Say a little, but do a lot.”   In fact, this is how Avrham behaved in the previous parsha, when he offered a meal to guests. He promised his guests “a morsel of bread” but then fed them a feast including a freshly prepared calf.


It’s easy to judge politicians and it’s tempting keep score of their promises. But, we are all leaders in our own families, communities, businesses and social circles. Let’s remind ourselves how we can be better leaders. Let’s deliver more than we promise.

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