Did Avraham Already Own The Land?
In this weeks parsha we read of Avraham's purchase of M'aras Hamachpela. Prior to any negotiations Avraham said to the binai Chais "Ger t'toshav anochi" (23:4) - I am a stanger and a resident. Rashi quotes a Medrish that explains the apparent paradox in Avraham's words as follows: Avraham was telling the binai Chais treat me like a stranger and sell me the property, and if not I will be forced to act as a resident and take what is rightfully mine. For Hashem has already said to me that this land will belong to my children.
The Miforshim are bothered by this interpretation and ask the following question: In parshas Lech Licha we learned of the dispute between Avraham's and Lot's shepherds. The passuk does not inform us regarding the details of the dispute, however Rashi does. Rashi says that Lot's shepards were risha'im and would allow their animals to graze in private property. Avraham's shepherds chastised them for this as it was stealing. In defense Lot's shepards responded that what they were doing was not stealing since Hashem gave this land to Avraham and Lot is his only inheritor (at the time). Rashi concludes by quoting the end of that passuk that says vihakinani vihaprizi az yoshaiv ba'aretz (and the Cinani and the Prizi were still occupying the land) indicating that Avraham had not yet acquired the land and therefore allowing the animals to graze in private property was indeed stealing.
The two explanations from Rashi seem to contradict one another. In this week's parsha he says that Avraham could take the land as its rightful owner, and in parshas Lech Licha he said that Avraham had not yet acquired the land.
The Chizkuni and the Sifsai Chachamim both suggest the following answer: Hashem promised Avraham that his children will inherit the land of Eretz Yisroel. In parshas Lech Licha Avraham had not yet had any offspring, therefore Hashem's promise did not come in to affect. In parshas Chaya Sarah, Yitzchok had already been born. Thus, Hashem's promise was applicable and Avraham could demand the land as its rightful owner.
My rebbe, Reb Shmuel Birembaum zt"l, suggested another answer to this question, based on an explanation from the Malbimon on a different point in this episode. The Malbim explains that Avraham Avinu intended on accomplishing more than merely acquiring a piece of land; he wanted to teach the public that there was an afterlife. The general consensus of that time was that there was nothing after one dies, and Avraham wanted to use this opportunity to teach them otherwise. With this the Malbim explains why Avraham informed them of his intentions with the field in the first place and continuously stressed and reiterated several times that he is acquiring the land for a burial; to instill in the binai Chais the belief that there is an afterlife.
Reb Shmuel proved from a Gemara in Gittin (47a) that there are two separate levels of acquisition; the monetary aspect and there is also a level of acquisition that affects issurim and mitzvos. For example if a non Jew acquires land in Eretz Yisroel he completely owns the land as far as monetary issues are concerned. This enables him to do whatever he pleases to the land. However regarding tiruma and ma'aser and other mitzvos the land is not considered owned by a non Jew which would exempt it from those mitzvos, rather it is obligated in these mitzvos since the non Jew cannot acquire the land on the level that affects mitzvos.
Now we can understand the seemingly contradictory explanations from Rashi. Regarding monetary issues Avraham had not yet acquired the land. However regarding mitzvos, Avraham had already acquired Eretz Yisroel. In parshas Lech Licha Rashi was addressing a monetary issue; i.e. whether one may allow his cattle graze in someone else's field. In that regard Rashi explained that the land belonged to the current residents of the land as Avraham had not yet acquired the land. In this week's parsha the issue at hand was relevant to mitzvos, as explained by the Malbim Avraham was using this acquisition as a means to teach the binai Chais to believe in afterlife. Thus Avraham was able to invoke his property rights as the matter pertained to mitzvos.
I believe that Rashi in parshas Vayayra (18:17) seems to contradict pshat of the Sifsay Chachamim. Rashi says that Hashem informed Avraham of his plans to destroy Sedom because it belonged to him. At this point Yitzchok was not yet born, thus according to the Sifsay Chachamim the land did not yet belong to Avraham. According to Reb Shmuel, Hashem wanted to inform Avraham of his plans since he owned the land regarding mitzvos.
Posted By KH to KollelH blog at 11/16/2011 09:33:00 PM