Making the Worthwhile Worth Something

Home in Ma'ale Adummim Settlement. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock.

The recent criminal charge brought against a 64-year-old man from a Palestinian court for having the audacity to sell his family’s property to an Israeli man should raise eyebrows from those who believe the Palestinian authorities are committed to peace with Israel. Ironically, it is the efforts of men like the suspect that offer true hope for peace in the Middle East. It’s men like that who know that some things are worth paying for.

There is a tragic irony in historic property rights in Israel. Three times in the Bible Hebrews went out of their way to buy property from non-Israelis living in the land. Abraham buys a burial plot in Hebron, Jacob buys a plot of land from the residents of Shechem and King David buys a threshing floor that is traditionally viewed as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Yet despite the monetary transactions that took place for these tracts of land—the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the town of Shechem, or Nablus as it’s known today, and the Temple Mount—all three plots are claimed by the Palestinians. Furthermore, visitation to these sites by Jews today is complicated at best.

What stands out about these plots is that the men who bought them had already been divinely promised the Land of Israel. Yet they intentionally paid for these properties. Why?

King David, who as the ruling monarch could have easily demanded the land, best summarized the reason for buying the land fair and square. He wanted the territory to offer sacrifices to G-d, and he insists on paying for the privilege. He refused to offer a sacrifice that didn’t cost him anything, since that’s not a true offering. That’s a gift re-appropriation. Re-gifting to Heaven just wouldn’t cut it for David.

More importantly, to not pay for it would undercut the significance of the effort. It would symbolically declare that the property isn’t worth all that much to him. By demanding to pay for it, David placed importance on the land itself and honored G-d by his own personal sacrifice.

Abraham has a similar motivation. He’s buying a burial plot for his beloved wife Sarah. To properly respect her memory and demonstrate his love for her, he had to spend a noteworthy portion of his wealth on her tomb, despite being offered it as a gift. To accept it as a gift would not only diminish his own love and appreciation for his wife, it would declare to those watching that money meant more to him than her.

Jacob, we see, buys the property near Shechem after returning to Israel from his time abroad and surviving his meeting with Esau—who had threatened to kill him when they had last seen one another. Jacob’s purchase of property at that time comes as a declaration that he is ready to move on with his life and purpose of inheriting G-d’s blessings.

Jacob, like Abraham and David, is making clear the significance of what he is doing by actually spending his own resources. He doesn’t just set up his tent on some unclaimed spot. No, this is too important to him. He has to “own” his actions—and that means taking legal ownership of his property.

So how does all this apply to the Palestinian would-be seller and Israeli who wanted to buy his property? Both of them were willing to put down something of worth to do something they considered worthwhile. While we don’t know their motives, imagine the best-case possibilities.

For the Israeli, it may have meant spending his capital to take physical ownership of property that is promised him by G-d. He demonstrates his own sincere belief in the goodness of G-d by being willing to put his money where his faith is.

For the Palestinian man, maybe he sought out an Israeli buyer and not a Palestinian because he has hopes of a better future. He risked imprisonment to make a statement that the people in the region can mutually respect one another. Or maybe all the motives were in fact pure capitalism. We may never know.

But the point to this lesson is that some things are worth taking risk. Some things are worthy of spending money, time and effort to acquire or do.

Do you believe in taking care of the poor? If so, do you? Do you spend your time or resources on that belief? Or is it just a quaint idea that you encourage others to do?

Do you demonstrate your love for your spouse by going beyond what’s required, or do you skate by—hoping they will be content with sacrifices that cost you little or nothing?

Do you achieve all you can at work or school, or do you ride on the laurels of past achievements or natural talent? The point is that whatever the life pursuit, the more we risk or the more we put towards it, the more we demonstrate and reinforce its importance to us and display that to others.

Go be bold this week. Find what’s worth paying for and insist on putting your resources—time or treasure—where your heart is.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, December 16, 2012)