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Someone Has to Pay Retail

Someone Has to Pay Retail


A friend of mine used to be mortified when shopping with his mother over her insistence on haggling over each and every item purchased. She would negotiate with everyone: storeowners, door-to-door salesmen, even the check-out clerks at the supermarket. Poor kid would be absolutely squirming with embarrassment every time his mother went through her "is this the best price you can offer?" routine.

He must have picked up something though, because now he's the one intimidating shop assistants and bargain hunting his way through life. He claims it's not Jewish to pay retail and the only thing better than 50% off, is 2 for the price of 1.

Strange then that the archetype Jew, our ancestor Abraham, turned down an even better bargain. After his beloved wife passed away, Abraham went plot shopping. He discovered the perfect piece of real estate, a burial cave in Hebron, and enquired about the purchase price.

He was offered the "bargain" of a lifetime: free landHe was offered the "bargain" of a lifetime: free land. The locals held him in such high regard that they begged him to accept the burial plot, free of charge. Incredibly, not only did he refuse this gift, Abraham insisted on paying full price on his eventual purchase (Genesis 23:9).

But why be so high-principled? Would it have made a difference had he graciously accepted their offer? Why should the way in which he assumed possession affect the end-use of the land?

What's wrong with it?

My wife Leah and I recently noticed something peculiar about the functions we organize for our synagogue. Over the years we've played around with a number of formats and systems to attract locals and members to Torah classes and activities. When we first started, we believed that advertising free-entry was a sure catch to draw in the locals. After all, aren't we here to demonstrate the accessibility and appeal of Judaism?

On reflection, we've noticed that those lecture-series and programs for which we advertise a cover charge seem to attract almost double the turnout than for those where we charge no entry fee, and rely on outside sponsorship to make up the shortfall. Of course we make certain to publicize that no one will ever be turned away for lack of funds, but in general we now charge at least a token fee for most activities.

Not only does this not seem to deter attendance, but I honestly believe people value their time more for having paid for it. It is almost as if when people shell out for entertainment, they give themselves the liberty to drain the cup of amusement to the full, and make certain to gain as much as possible from the lecture and classes they've paid for. Economists have some fancy formula describing how people are influenced by the "sunk-cost," but from my observation, people become suspicious when offered something for free.

Abraham was not just looking for a cheap plot in which to bury his wife; he was investing in the future. His children and grandchildren visit that burial site till today and when we pray to G‑d there, and ask our zeida and bubbe to intercede on our behalf, we're demonstrating our appreciation for his priorities.

Bargain hunting for luxuries may be fun, but when it comes to the fundamentals of life: our professional pride, choice of spouse, and commitment to G‑d, everyone wants to know that they've put in maximum effort to succeed, and that the final reward will be worth the price.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.
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David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel November 16, 2011

Land Revenues The fee would go to the government. This idea was first proposed 130 years ago by Henry George, in "Progress and Poverty" his seminal book. That is to say, after the Jews forgot about the moral principle about sharing the right for access to land.

I don't see the connection with owning our bodies. After we pass on the body is no longer ours. Reply

Anonymous FAR, KALIF. November 15, 2011

Land Purchase David, to whom would this fee or lease be made to? The government? Or to an owner of property? If the government then we have no freedom to own anything, even our bodies. We live only so long it is borrowed, temporary any way, work harder to own it. Reply

David Chester petach Tikva, Israel November 15, 2011

Land Purchase The precedent which Abraham created still haunts us to this day! Buying and selling land is wrong because land is a gift to man and he should have free and equal access to its opportunity-use. In the case of burials there is a problem, because obviously the land is then made unavailable for other use (except possibly for a prayer center, as is the case in Hevron).

Today in Israel the price of land is so high that many people are homeless and others pay excessive rent and have to manage with very little less-vital things. Had Abraham set a precedent of paying an anual fee (lease) for the continued right of occupancy, all of our present excesses in land would no longer apply.

In patrticular there was a later attempt in Leviticus 19 and 25 to right this wrong by distributing the land of Canaan to the Israelite tribes and families according to the value and productive-power of the various plots. It is unfortunate this principle is no longer recognized as being of ethical significance. Reply

Anonymous FAR , KALIF. November 14, 2011

Ownership I think Susan is right, like free' advice, no one takes it, but charge for the same advice and it will have value. I think Abraham was right . Reply

Jeffrey (a practising Solicitor) Sheffield October 31, 2010

Purchase of cave Read 23:16-18.
The text is, in my opinion, drawn verbatim from the purchase deed from Ephron to Avraham. It almost exactly corresponds with the style of a modern-day Transfer used to acquire the legal estate of land within England & Wales and to register the purchaser as Her Majesty's Land Registry. Reply

Susan DC, USA via October 30, 2010

Ownership Avraham bought the land to make sure that at no time could it be revoked. He paid full price so that there could be no question whatsoever that the land was his, in perpetuity. Reply

zvi sydney, nsw October 27, 2010

u r so right.
u value something more when you've made a contribution to it. Reply

Becky Las Vegas, NV October 27, 2010

I Timing of this article is insensitive at best. There are many of us who can't afford to pay the rent or buy challah much less purchase High Holiday tickets during this economic time. Summarizing Abraham paying a fair price for a burial spot to "choice of spouse" and equating "maximum effort to succeed" should be linked to money leaves a bad taste. Reply

Anonymous Scottsdale, AZ/USA via October 24, 2010

Accepting something for free the reason, if there is one, that people do not like accepting something for free, is that it is important to know why it is offered for free, and who is supporting the give-away, because nothing is really free.
It is also true that receiving somwething for free is problematic as it may have hidden strings attached, if you cannot read the small print before you leave with what you receiveid fro free.
So ti seems that apying even a small amount of money for something assures the person that it is really a legitimate acquisiton. Reply

Beverly Kurtin Hurst, TX via November 15, 2009

True, True, True A friend and I went to a busy corner in a city nearby. We were offering $5.00 bills for free. We knew at the start that we would have no takers. In fact, we had a policeman check us out to see if the bills were counterfeit. When we explained that we were trying to make a point that people would not accept money for free. Then we offered the bills for a dollar, still no takers. Finally we offered ten dollar bills for five dollars and we got two takers.

I've never really figured out why people won't accept something for nothing but I work with a multi-level marketing company, one that is listed on the NYSE and has been in business for 37 years. When we charge more for a franchise, people buy in; when we offer it for a pittance, the folks who join are underachievers. Interesting indeed. Reply

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