Monday, November 14, 2011

"Avraham the Fraier" - A Thought for

I listen to a popular American radio program (via the magic of iTunes podcast) called "This American Life", a story-based show about different aspects of, you guessed it, American Life. In March, while running in Yad Binyamin listening to the show, I heard a story that taught me pshat in Parshat Chayei Sarah.
The show's narrator interviewed an Iranian immigrant about the unusual Iranian custom of Ta'aruf, which, according to Wikipedia, "leads people to constantly offer things they may not want to give, and to refuse things they really want." Basically, even though you want something, practitioners of Ta'aruf must say exactly the opposite, in an elaborate charade meant to finally reach a nuanced conclusion. The Iranian immigrant, interviewed for the story, describes an imaginary interaction that takes place in Iranian stores every day.
You go into a story and you go and you buy dried fruit or something. You take it up to the counter to go pay, and the store owner says, "It's worthless. This is worthless. Your value is so much greater than this thing that you're trying to buy. Then you have to say, 'No, no, no, really, how much does it cost?' He tells you, 'No, no, no, just take it.' You have to argue to find out the price, until finally you get to the point where he tells you the price, and then he quotes you a price that's way more than the item is actually worth. Then it becomes a bargaining session." 
Does that sound vaguely familiar? Listening to the story, I realized that this short description precisely matches the first section of Chayei Sarah (Bereishit 23), where Avraham Avinu purchases the Me'arat Hamachpelah.

To read the rest of the piece, click here to download the formatted pdf version.