Say a Little and Do Much
By: Rav Moshe Stav
Parshat Chayei Sarah
The business transaction between Avraham Avinu and Ephron HaChiti has been the subject of much discussion, including halachic discussions as to the status of the sale and the nature of the kinyan that took place. In general, the story raises the question of why the Torah provides us with such detail regarding what on the surface appears to be simply an instance of Middle Eastern haggling over a price. What is the significance of this transaction?
In this context, we will focus on one point that Chazal note regarding Ephron’s behavior. Chazal teach that Ephron’s behavior reflects that resha’im say much but do not do even a little, whereas tzadikim say little but do much. This sheds remarkable light on Ephron’s intent. It seems to us that Ephron is a typical wheeler-dealer; he wants to be receive the most possible with the least bit of commitment in return. Thus, he wants to give Avraham the Me’arat HaMachpela as a gift, and not as a complete “achuzat kever.” (See the commentary of the Ohr HaChaim, who elaborates on this point.) Chazal understood, however, that Ephron actually intended from the outset to do good for Avraham, but he simply could not overpower his evil instincts. He promises much, and that leads him to not follow through even a little.
The power of speech is the greatest human trait. The Creator created the world through speech, and the words of tzadikim create heaven and earth: “And I will place my words in your mouth… to plant the heavens and to lay the foundations of the earth” (Yeshayahu 51:16). This is especially true with regard to the study of Torah. Every word of Torah that is said from the perspective of truth creates entire worlds. For this reason, the perfected individual weighs every word, so as not to desecrate his special “speaking” soul through pointless chatter, and all the more so through forbidden speech. Furthermore, he wishes his speech to express significant and lofty content. A tzadik thus concentrates the content that he wishes to express into less speech, but speech that is significant, as oppose to the fool, who talks a lot. Thus, the tzadik says little, but he does much. The perfected individual is well aware of the difficulties presented by the world of action, and he is concerned that he not stumble. He understands that “the speech of truth will be established forever, but speech of falsehood lasts but a moment” (Mishlei 12:19). He views words that are not fulfilled as a flaw in his entire spiritual essence. Because of this, any spiritual awakening that he experiences leads to the creation of perfected reality – that of one who “does much.”
The speech of a rasha, in contrast, may express a spiritual awakening, but their evil overpowers the importance and consistency of their words. The lack of consistency and constancy leads his words to lose their spiritual content, and the rasha therefore lacks the perfected form of a human.
Ephron was also inspired by the life story of Sarah, which was recounted in the eulogies about her. He also saw it as a portrait of perfection, and he also realized that Avraham was a “prince of G-d.” Thus, when Avraham asked him for an achuzat kever, Ephron was inspired to become a partner in their enterprise by giving Avraham the achuzat kever for free. But when they begin to discuss the details, Ephron remembered the financial significance of his plot of land. His business sense awakened and overpowered his initial decision, which was not strong to begin with, as it was made without thought or due consideration.
When a student arrives in the beit midrash, he feels a great drive and excitement, which leads him to “say much.” Despite the importance of such enthusiasm, it does not reflect the depths of the human soul. Only “few words” that emerge from depth of thought and consideration have the power of words of man as “speaker.” Only such words have the stability of the word of G-d.
Shiur ID: 7766