Allies and interests in the international arena

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

The Parasha in the everyday life - Chayeh Sarah – 5781

The Scripture describes the negotiations that took place between Abraham Avinu and Ephron about the Cave of the Patriarchs:

וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע אַבְרָהָם֮ אֶל־עֶפְרוֹן֒ וַיִּשְׁקֹ֤ל אַבְרָהָם֙ לְעֶפְרֹ֔ן אֶת־הַכֶּ֕סֶף אֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבֶּ֖ר בְּאָזְנֵ֣י בְנֵי־חֵ֑ת אַרְבַּ֤ע מֵאוֹת֙ שֶׁ֣קֶל כֶּ֔סֶף עֹבֵ֖ר לַסֹּחֵֽר׃ וַיָּ֣קָם שְׂדֵ֣ה עֶפְר֗וֹן אֲשֶׁר֙ בַּמַּכְפֵּלָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֖ר לִפְנֵ֣י מַמְרֵ֑א הַשָּׂדֶה֙ וְהַמְּעָרָ֣ה אֲשֶׁר־בּ֔וֹ וְכָל־הָעֵץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּשָּׂדֶ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּכָל־גְּבֻל֖וֹ סָבִֽיב׃ לְאַבְרָהָ֥ם לְמִקְנָ֖ה...

"Abraham accepted Ephron’s terms. Abraham paid out to Ephron the money that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites—four hundred shekels of silver at the going merchants’ rate. So Ephron’s land in Machpelah, near Mamre—the field with its cave and all the trees anywhere within the confines of that field—passed to Abraham as his possession" (Bereshit 23:16-18)

It might appear that this is a routine negotiation of a real estate purchase. Abraham wanted to take ownership of the Field of the Patriarchs and the Cave for burial purposes, in return Ephron demanded four hundred shekels of silver, but the Sages pointed out that the negotiations between them included a political clause. In exchange for ownership of the Field of the Patriarchs, Abraham was required to commit not to attack and conquer the city of Jebus, during his generation and three generations after him:

ר' יהודה אומר, שלשה אבות כרתו ברית עם עמי הארץ ואלו הם אברהם יצחק ויעקב אברהם כרת ברית עם עמי הארץ ... אמ' לבני יבוס לקנות מהם את מערת המכפלה במכר טוב בזהב ובכתב לאחוזת קבר עולם וכי יבוסים היו והלא חתיים היו אלא עיר יבוס נקרא יבוסים ... אמרו, אנו יודעים שעתיד הב"ה ליתן לך ולזרעך את כל הארצות האלה, כרות עמנו שבועה שאין ישר' יורשים את עיר יבוס, כי אם ברצונם. ואח"כ קנה את המכפלה במכר זהב ובכתב עולם לאחוזת עולם. וישמע אברהם אל עפרון… ויצחק כרת ברית עם עמי הארץ כשגר בארץ פלשתים…  יעקב כרת ברית עם עמי הארץ, שאמר לו לבן…

“Rabbi Jehudah said: Three forefathers Abraham, Yitzchak & Yaacov made covenants with the people of the land. (With reference to) Abraham (the circumstances were as follows). He spoke to the sons of Jebus, in order to purchase from them the Cave of Machpelah by a purchase with gold, and by a perpetual deed for a possession of a burying-place. Were they Jebusites? Were they not Hittites? But they were called Jebusites according to the name of the city of Jebus... They said to him: We know that the Holy One, blessed be He, will give to thee and to thy seed in the future all these lands; make a covenant with us by an oath that thy seed shall not take possession of the cities of Jebus, and we will sell unto thee the Cave of Machpelah by a purchase with gold and by a perpetual deed and for a perpetual possession. He made with them a covenant with an oath that the Israelites would not take possession of the city of Jebus save by the consent of the sons of Jebus, and afterwards he bought the Cave of Machpelah by a purchase with gold, and a perpetual deed, for a perpetual possession… Yitzchak made a covenant with the people of the land, when he sojourned in the land of the Philistines… Yaacov made a covenant with the people of the land, because Laban said to him… (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 35)

The Midrash there describes how the strategic covenant Abraham made delayed the conquest of Jerusalem by David many generations later, the covenant Yitzchak made delayed David in his war against the Philistines, and the covenant Yaacov made delayed David in his war against Aram.

In the previous Parasha we also read about the strategic alliance that Abraham made with Avimelech, to ensure the security and status of future generations, and to establish his hold on the Land of Israel. In this covenant he pledged not to act against the descendants of Avimelech for three generations.

אִם־תִּשְׁקֹ֣ר לִ֔י וּלְנִינִ֖י וּלְנֶכְדִּ֑י

"you will not deal falsely with me or with my kith and kin", (Bereshit 21:23). "These are three generations." (Midrash Lekach Tov ibid). On the other hand, there are those who don’t agree with the fact he made this pact and believe that because of this, G-d also brought upon Abraham Avinu the test of the binding (Rashbam ibid).


There is a perception that denies the effectiveness of the covenants of the people of Israel with the nations, in the sense of

הֶן־עָם֙ לְבָדָ֣ד יִשְׁכֹּ֔ן וּבַגּוֹיִ֖ם לֹ֥א יִתְחַשָּֽׁב׃

“There is a people that dwells apart, Not reckoned among the nations (Bamidbar 23: 9). But like the other components of 'national security' that are based on reality and the ways of nature, and not on miracles, strategic alliances in the international arena are also necessary. They are an element of power and deterrence in the face of potential enemies.

From the Midrash we learn in this matter about the “Ma’aseh Avot Siman Lebanim - The Actions of the Fathers are a Sign to the Children". The fathers also made 'alliances'. Although 'in international relations there is no friendship only interests', and past experience shows that not all covenants stood the test of time in the real world, and were the מִשְׁעֶנֶת֩ הַקָּנֶ֨ה הָרָצ֤וּץ “that splintered reed of a staff, which enters and punctures the palm of anyone who leans on it!” (II Kings 18:21), but this does not negate the need for them. On the contrary, in order for an alliance to last and stand the test of time, it must be based on as many common interests as possible, and the Allies must have something to gain and, alternatively, something to lose in the event of a breach. And that the alliance will not involve the payment with essential strategic assets.

This was written during the week when the elections in the US ended, and it is possible that the State of Israel’s great friend, Donald Trump’s term as President of the United States, may also end. He may be replaced by Joe Biden, a member of the Democratic Party whose members have radical and progressive opinions.

This week there is a lot of talk about the 'strategic alliance between Israel and the United States'. An alliance that has more than a few common interests, and also quite a bit of friendship and partnership. An alliance that has stood the test several times, in real time, even if not always met our expectations. For those who are familiar with the State of Israel’s elements of national security, this covenant is a strategic asset, and it does not contradict the principle that we must base our security on our independent ability, and not be dependent on others, nor our deep faith in our heavenly Father.

This is an opportunity to thank President D. Trump for everything he has done for the State of Israel so far. For four years he made Israel's national and security needs a priority, repealing the unfortunate nuclear deal with Iran, stopping automatic support for the Palestinian Authority, relocating the embassy to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, recognizing our sovereignty over the Golan Heights and our historic national rights in the territories of Judea and Samaria. And for helping achieve historic peace agreements with a number of countries from the Gulf without the need for a withdrawal or payment in the strategic assets of the State of Israel.

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