“…in the presence of the children of Ches…” (Bereishis 23:18)

This verse seems to be offering us a piece of meaningless information. What difference does it make that the sons of Ches were there? Does an audience make any difference?

Peer pressure is sometimes dangerous, and sometimes very helpful. Chazal tell us “kinas sofrim tarbeh hachma”—one’s jealousy of peers who are diligent in learning will generate more wisdom. We also know from the Rambam that if a person finds himself in a decadent society, he is even obligated to move to the wilderness to avoid being negatively affected by his environment.

Rav Elchonan Wasserman asks a question, which is a brainteaser for the novice. There is a rule in Torah law that one should follow the majority opinion. If that is the case, being that the majority of the world does not identify with the True G-d, why shouldn’t we follow the majority and become irreligious? What flies in the face of such logic is Avraham Avinu. He was called “Ivri” (עברי) because the whole world was on one side, and he was the only one on the other(עבר)  side. Rav Wasserman answers his own question, explaining the flaw in the assumption: We only follow the majority in cases of doubt. But in matters that are obviously clear as to what is right, the methods of conclusion are not necessary.

With this thought in mind, one may think that Avraham Avinu was a freethinking intellectual, unattached from social norms and pressure. The Chida tells us an enlightening observation of how untrue this was. Avraham Avinu recognized the wiliness of Efron, his ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth at once. Saying that he wanted to give Avraham a present and at the same time asking a steep price. How does one deal with such an individual? Avraham gathered all of the sons of Ches to be present during the negotiations. This limited Efron’s ability to change his price. Aside from the social pressure, there is also a halacha in Choshen Mishpat about things done in public and are accepted in front of the heads of that city (or similar), are binding, even without a kinyan. Therefore, Avraham evoked this tool too, to force the deal to be consummated, neutralizing Efron’s ability to retract.

Upon seeing this idea, the idea of “Kiddush Hashem” and “Chillul Hashem” became clearer to me. A mitzvah (or reverse chas v’shalom) performed in a public forum, channels the power of the masses, not only regarding the impressions being made, but it also has a lasting effect in the realm of interpersonal relationships. Those actions performed in public will indeed label and then remain with a person. By making those positive actions in public, they become an inseparable part of who we are.