In this week's Torah portion we read about Abraham's purchase of Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Patriarch's Cave, from Efron the Hittite. Here's a story that I read in volume two of the book "Avihem Shel Yisrael", a compendium of stories about Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu zt"l:
Even before the 1929 massacre of Hebron's Jewish Community by the Arabs, the Cave of the Patriarchs was closed off to the Jews. It did not matter that this was the resting place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. The Arabs would only let the Jews up to the seventh step of the stairs leading up to the entrance.
After Hebron was liberated by the IDF during the Six Day War, Jews were finally able to enter the Cave of the Patriarchs. Chief Rabbi Nissim sent Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu to take care of the place. Many soldiers were there. Also present were high ranking officers like Rabin, Bar Lev, and Uzi Narkis. Some important Rabbis also came to Hebron to pray at the burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish People.
The soldiers, some of them wounded, some of tired from days of battle, took a nap on the rugs that were there. Those that were hungry grabbed a bite to eat. Suddenly the Sheikh of the Cave, whose name was Jabri, started yelling at the soldiers and the commanders.
"Get out of here! You are not giving this site proper respect! We Muslims wash our hands five times before entering and remove our shoes. You Jews, have no respect: sleeping here, eating here and entering with your dirty shoes. Get out!
Seemingly, the sheikh was correct. Everyone was silent, except for one.
"Listen ya sheikh," answered him Rabbi Eliyahu in Arabic, a language familiar to him and to most of the high ranking officers. "If the king's servant comes wearing dirty clothes and serves the king food from a dirty platter in front of the the king's ministers and servants, he is certainly liable the death penalty. However, if the king's son, who hasn't seen the king for twenty years, and his father and mother miss him and cry about him at night - if this son, will show up in ragged and dusty clothes, without making an appointment, and will enter in the middle of a meeting of the king and his ministers and say, 'Father, I've come back' - he'll come to his mother and say 'Mother, I'm home' - the father and mother will surely hug him heartily, dirty clothes and all. He's their son."
"Listen ya sheikh," continued Rabbi Eliyahu. "Abraham is our father. Sarah is our mother. We feel at home here. You are the children of al-fatma, the maidservant Hagar. You are behaving here as is proper for a servant to behave, we behave here as is proper for a son to behave."
The sheikh turned red with shame and anger. He lost the argument, and in addition was called "ibn al-fatma". He returned in anger to his office.
The officers there were upset. "We want to live in coexistence and peace with the Arabs. Why did you anger him?"
The rabbi answered, "You have to tell them the truth. That's the only way they understand.
The argument continued for several minutes, until the sheikh came out of his office again. He turned submissively to Rabbi Eliyahu and said, "ya chacham, ya sidi, (wise man and master) please forgive me."
The Rabbi did not answer him. Instead he turned to the commanders and said,
"You see which language they understand. I grew up among them as a child in the Old City of Jerusalem. Tell them the truth and they understand.