U. S. President Donald Trump has fancied himself as the master of the deal. But that distinction lies with Abraham.
The portrait the Torah paints of Efron the Hittite seems positive enough. He appears to be an honorable, even generous man. Yet, strangely, when Abraham offers to pay full price for a burial plot for Sarah, Efron accepts. This hardly seems to be in character for a man who was willing to give away his land just before.
Rabbi Samuel ben Meir, a grandson of RaShI, cryptically comments that the wise can understand matters from even the slightest hint. What he seems to be suggesting is that in the negotiations it was Efron who lets out that the land was worth four hundred pieces of silver. If he were so generous and unconcerned with money, there would be no need to mention the price. To the contrary, if he blurted out the price it was because money did indeed matter to him. Abraham understood this about Efron and therefore insisted on paying the full price. It was only a veneer of magnanimity and generosity that Efron projected. Deep inside, Efron wanted to be paid and the proof is his willing and immediate acceptance of the money Abraham offers.
Nevertheless, Efron was no greedy; he was cunning. By offering Abraham the choice burial grounds he desired (according to legend, the same burial location of Adam and Eve) at no charge, Efron was trying to win for himself some advantage. Abraham was an important chieftain whose clan was growing in number and power. It would be in Efron’s best interests to forgo payment from Abraham now in consideration of future favors. Abraham was not unaware of this strategy and preferred to be free from any form of later indebtedness. So he insists that that Efron take full payment for the land now and not become beholden to Efron in any way. The Torah emphasizes the public nature of the land transfer. It was made “in the hearing of the people” (Genesis 23:10, 13, 16) and performed at the gates of the city (v. 10, 18). Such a public disposition of property assures that all understood that Abraham’s financial obligations had been officially completed.
Sometimes the best deals are the ones that do not necessarily cut costs. Abraham was eager to pay full price now to avoid any future encumbrances. That was wise.