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Geshmack Dvar Torah of the Week: What did Avraham buy?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

What did Avraham buy?

This week is in keeping with the theme of the past few weeks, demonstrating the level of intricacy and detail in the Torah. This week's is courtesy of the Vilna Gaon.

The Pasuk says Avraham " וַיִּשְׁמַע אַבְרָהָם, אֶל-עֶפְרוֹן, וַיִּשְׁקֹל אַבְרָהָם לְעֶפְרֹן, אֶת-הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר "בְּאָזְנֵי בְנֵי-חֵת--אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שֶׁקֶל כֶּסֶף, עֹבֵר לַסֹּחֵר -" And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the hearing of the children of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant." (Gen. 23:16)

How much did he get for 400 shekels? Why are we told about all the specifics in the story, such as the price/negotiations, surely they don't really matter? You'll have to bear with me, as this answer is all literally over the place.

We will go on a tangent for a second, to Kesubos 17, where we are told that since the Torah was given to 600,000 adult men, this is the appropriate amount of people to have at a funeral. The Vilna Gaon proves that the land Avraham bought has this capacity.

First, I need to prove to you how much a se'ah is. A se'ah is a measurement of land size. The perimeter of the Mishkan courtyard was 100x50 amos (cubits - roughly 60 centimetres). It is known sometimes as "Beis Se'asayim", or 2 se'ah. The Mishkan was 100x50. A se'ah is therefore half of this, 50x50 amos. The amount of amos in a se'ah is 50x50, = 2500 square amos.

I now need to explain how much a kur is. It is also a meausrement of land, and is 30 times the size of a se'ah. 30x2500 amos = 1 kur = 75,000 square amos.

In Succah 7 the Gemara informs us that the amount of space a person occupies will standing is 1 square ama. If we are going to say that Avraham purchased land that could hold 600,000 people, it would need to be at least 600,000 square amos.

There is a Gemara in Erchin 25, that explains that when people want to retract donations to the Temple fund (hekdesh), they must pay a fee to redeem the item. The price set by the Gemara for land donations is 50 shkalim per kur.

Avrhaham Avinu spent 400 shkalim, which at the Gemara's price mean he bought 8 kur of land from Efron. We said that a kur is 75,000 square amos. 8 kur = 8x75,000 amos = 600,000 square amos.

This proves there was enough room on the land for 600,000 people to attend the funeral in keeping with the Gemara, but moreover, it further shows there is not a spare word in the Torah, the details of the narrative including the price were not written purely for the story's sake.

(This also proves how lucky we are to have the decimal system! :) )

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