Friday, October 25, 2013

Do Little and Take All The Credit: The Efron Ethic

The Parsha begins with the death of Sarah and Avraham’s struggle to procure a burial plot for her in Hebron. He must deal with Efron in order to secure the purchase. Efron’s name is spelled differently in differet places. Sometimes it is spelled with a letter vav and sometimes without a vav

In 23:10 it states that “Efron sat (yoshev) in the midst of the children of Chet.” Here Efron’s name is spelled with a vav; however the word “Yoshev” is spelled without a vav. Rashi picks up on this peculiarity and comments that on that day Efron was appointed a ruler over Chet because of the connection he now had with Avraham. In other words, his “sitting” as a leader was incomplete as it was not in his own merit.

 A few pesukim later, 23:16, it says that “Avraham weighed money out to Efron.” Here the name Efron is written missing the vav. Again Rashi comments and says that Efron was lacking in that he talked a lot but did very little. He talked a lot about giving Avraham the burial plot free of charge, yet in the end he exacted an exorbitant price for it.

These two episodes, as explained by Rashi paint an unimpressive picture of who Efron was, and what we need to try and avoid. Efron was a man that took credit when he didn’t deserve it and did not live up to his responsibilities when called upon to do so.

That is the easy way through life: take credit for other people’s work; talk a lot about getting things done but then somehow get out of the work that is entailed. That’s what Efron did- we must learn from his example and do the exact opposite.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Chipper Jones and Avraham Avinu

As reported here, future Hall of Famer and former Atlanta Braves star Chipper Jones was honored with throwing out the first pitch for Game One of the NLDS against the Dodgers. However Jones was forced to pitch to the mascot, for the entire current Braves team boycotted Jones’ appearance. It seems that Jones previously predicted on Braves radio that Atlanta would lose to the Dodgers in 4 games. The current team did not appreciate that prediction so they boycotted his appearance. It ends up that Chipper Jones was right- the Braves lost to the Dodgers in 4 games. Which got me thinking: Was Chipper Jones wrong- or were the Braves? What was so bad about what he did?

                I think we can better understand the problem with Chipper by looking at an episode in this week’s Parsha God promises Avraham that he will become a great nation and He will give Avraham the land of Canaan. In response Avraham says, “God, how shall I know that I will inherit?” (15:8) The Medrash criticizes Avraham for questioning God. In fact according to rabbinic tradition the severity of the Jewish slavery in Egypt was due in part to Avraham’s questioning in this verse. Here too I ask: what did Avraham do that was so bad?

                I think that the answer to both questions is differentiating between the ways insiders and outsiders question and criticize. Chipper Jones is a former Braves player. As an insider he should have understood the sensitivity of predicting against his former team on Braves radio. So too, the question that Avraham asks is a legitimate one- but not for an insider. In this case, God had already demonstrated to Avraham that He considered him an insider. Avraham should have therefore trusted God instead of outright questioning Him.

                We need to keep in mind the difference between how we question, correct and criticize as insiders vs outsiders. When we are outsiders we criticize without restraint. As insiders, we question and critique gently and in the hopes of improvement. When it comes to our shuls, our schools, our neighborhoods and our families- let us resolve to learn the lesson from Avraham Avinu- and Chipper Jones- and act as insiders with the hopes of improving those institutions- and ourselves.