By: Yanki Tauber, based on the teachings of the Rebbe

In chapter 23 of Genesis, we read of the first tract in the Land of Israel to enter into Jewish possession.

Sixty years earlier, G-d had told Abraham: “The entire land that you see, I will give to you and your descendants forever . . . Arise and traverse the land, in its length and in its breadth, for to you I shall give it” (Genesis 13:15, 17). But this was a promise concerning the future; the land was not yet his, and Abraham took care not to even allow his sheep to graze on Canaanite property. (Indeed, this was the cause of the split between Abraham and his nephew Lot—see Rashi on Genesis 13:7.) The first part of the Land of Israel to belong to the Jewish people in the actual and legal sense was the “Machpelah field and its cave” in the heart of Hebron, which Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite.

As our sages point out, there are three parts of Israel over which the Jewish right of ownership is most powerfully established. Even one who denies the divine promise quoted above—and reiterated by G-d tens of times throughout the Bible—cannot contest the Jewish right over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, purchased by King David from Aravnah the Jebusite (as related in the closing verses of II Samuel); the section of Shechem (Nablus) purchased by Jacob from the family of the Canaanite ruler Hamor (Genesis 33:19); and the Machpelah field of Hebron, of which we read:

And Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver in negotiable currency. . . .
Then Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre, that is Hebron, in the land of Canaan.

The Torah recounts the Ephron-Abraham sale in great detail, including the sum of the purchase price—four hundred silver shekels. Based on this figure, the thirteenth-century sage Rabbi Yitzchak bar Yehudah (author of Paaneach Raza) makes an interesting calculation. According to Leviticus 27:16, the value of land in biblical times was 50 silver shekels for a beit kor, or 75,000 square amot (cubits). Thus, the area purchased by Abraham was eight beit kor, or 600,000 square cubits. A square cubit is the approximate area occupied by an upright human being.


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