If Abraham had been dealing with the landed gentry and merchants of Falmouth and Penzance, he would have had an easier time of it negotiating for a burial plot for his beloved Sarah. At the beginning of Chapter 8 (‘The Jewish Cemeteries’) in his The Jews of Cornwall – A History, Keith Pearce describes in perceptive detail how important burial and cemeteries are to Jewish communities. The sacred practice of honouring the dead starts, as one would expect, with Abraham. On Sarah’s death, he mourns and weeps for her. He also seeks a secure place to bury her, a place which will become his own grave and that of the patriarchs and matriarchs down to Jacob, Rachel and Leah. Unfortunately, for Abraham, he has to deal with Ephron, the Hittite. While oozing charm and a thick veneer of seeming generosity, Ephron is really out to get whatever he can from the bereaved Abraham and ends up charging him an extortionate price equivalent to many years wages for a worker in those days. Contrast this with the terms under which the Jews of Cornwall obtained their burial grounds in Penzance and Falmouth. The Bassets and other land owners either offered very reasonable or generous terms or didn’t charge at all, despite knowing that in the case of burial plots, it is almost always going to be a seller’s market.
Ephron is not the only calculating character in this week’s parsha. We also meet Laban, the bane of his sister’s life and, in years to come, the bane of his nephew’s. It is not all bad, however. There is happiness and promise in the marriage of Isaac and more fulfilment for Abraham himself. This week, we have another new service leader. Come along on Saturday at 10:30 and lend brave Jenni Zaidi your support and cheer.