And he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, "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." And Ephron replied to Avraham, saying to him, "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." (Bereishis 23:13-15)
“This cave has very little value,” thought Ephron, “I will present it to Avraham as a gift.” As it is written: "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." Why didn’t Avraham accept the Machpelah as a gift, or at least not overpay its perceived worth?
According to the Ohr Hachaim, Avraham realized that Ephron would later try to reclaim the Machpelah when he discovered its true worth. Ephron will claim later that he was cheated. Furthermore, if Avraham did not own the Machpelah outright, Ephron’s descendants might try to prevent further burials. Therefore, he was ready to pay a high price to avoid any future problems.
Ephron and Avraham stood in front of the Cave of the Machpelah, each with a different perception of what they were seeing. Ephron saw the Cave of the Machpelah as a dumping area for dead animals and garbage; a deep dark cave that emitted a foul odor. However, Avraham saw something completely different. He perceived a great light emanating from the cave and could smell the sweet fragrance of the Garden of Eden. Both the Rasha and the Tzadik saw the same cave but had completely different experiences.
Rav Nachman of Breslev adds that purchasing the Cave of the Machpelah constituted the beginning of the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. Avraham was willing to forfeit his entire wealth to insure that the Machpeilah would never fall from Jewish possession. His mesirus nefesh would pave the way for further sacrifices until the entire land would be conquered.
Due to Avraham’s lofty status, which was acquired through years of spiritual refinement, he was able to recognize the holiness of the Cave of the Machpelah. He was attuned to the reality of what was really before him. Ephron, who was a dishonest and greedy person, projected his own spiritual emptiness onto an exquisitely holy place. He was so close to such holiness and yet he felt nothing.
And us? How do we view these unusual times? Do we just give up and complain when things get tough? Are we willing to go to great lengths to acquire the ability to perceive the true good in each day and in each other? In order to pull out of this pandemic, we must strengthen our Torah learning, our emunah and our desire to serve God. Then, like Avraham, Hashem will open our eyes to the truth that is right there in front of us.