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Campaign Promises

Friday, 29 October, 2010 - 3:00 pm

With midterm elections around the corner we are inundated on the airwaves, in our mailboxes and in newspapers with political ads. “Vote for me,” we are urged, “because I will change the way government works.” “Vote for me,” another candidate declares, “because I promise to restore ethics and accountability.” “Vote for me because I will do a better job than your current elected official,” pledges another.

The list goes on. As someone once mentioned, “It’s silly season in politics now.”

With debates and yard signs, every candidate is vying for our attention and, ultimately, our votes.

What will sway your decision on Election Day?


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 (Bereishit/Genesis, beginning of Chapter 23). 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 – 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 (as Avraham stipulated), but 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” (Bereishit/Genesis 18:5) but then fed them a feast including a fresh calf.


So as we search for laudable leaders, let’s remind ourselves how we can be better leaders. Let’s deliver more than we promise.


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