Many of us are familiar with the June 6, 1944 invasion of France, better known as D-Day. Tens of thousands of Allied soldiers hit the beaches of Normandy, France suffering, in many cases, horrendous casualties. What we don’t realize is that D-Day was not only a strategic and tactical accomplishment but a logistical one as well. A brief survey of what it took to supply the Allies in the battle is breathtaking.
The preparations for D-Day had begun as early as 1942. Although the date for the invasion was not yet decided (and, in fact, it was considered for 1943 as well) the Allied command understood that such an undertaking needed to be preceded by the building of a supply infrastructure. This infrastructure needed to supply both the initial invasion and subsequent battles. It needed to consider not only the many types and amounts of supplies needed, but also how to transport those supplies both to and within France.
By June 1944, 17 million tons of cargo had been shipped from the United States to Great Britain – everything from toothbrushes to over 800,000 pints of plasma. 17 million maps had been produced for the D-Day landings. Once Allied troops secured a beachhead in France, they needed one million gallons of oil and 20,000 tons of assorted supplies daily. 3,489 tons of soap were shipped during the first four months following the invasion. Enough food had to be produced and shipped to supply each soldier with 2,830 calories a day. Even the Hershey Chocolate Factory did its part. In 1939, Hershey was producing 100,000 candy bars daily. By 1944, it was producing 24 million bars per week to help feed the soldiers. During this time, the army’s dentists extracted 15 million teeth, filled 68 million cavities and made 2.5 million sets of dentures.
Once in Europe, the army developed the “Red Ball Express” to help transport the supplies through France. On a typical day, 900 fully-loaded trucks worked 24 hours a day, traveling at 60-yard intervals at a maximum speed of 25 mph. By the time the “Red Ball Express” ceased operations in November 1944 it had delivered 412,193 tons of food, oil, gasoline and ammunition to the front lines. Without these supplies D-Day would not have succeeded.
All too often leaders fail to consider adequately the importance of logistics and their organizations suffer as a consequence. This is true whether a person leads an army or is in charge of an athletic team and forgets, for example, to bring the footballs. In a somewhat subtle way the Torah teaches us this lesson in this week’s parsha.
In order to facilitate the proper burial of his wife, Avraham needed to purchase Mearat HaMachpela and the field in which it was located from Ephron. The Torah describes in detail the negotiations that transpired between them. Although Ephron initially offered the burial site for free, Avraham insisted on purchasing it. At that point Ephron quickly changed gears and offered it for a “mere” four hundred shekalim.
The commentators explore where this price came from. The Ramban suggests three answers. Quoting the Targum, he explains that perhaps that was what property of that size in that locale sold for. In other words, Ephron was asking the standard retail price. The Ramban also suggests that perhaps four hundred shekalim was the price Ephron or one of his ancestors actually paid for the land. As such, Ephron was simply trying to break even. The third answer the Ramban suggests, based on the Gemara (Bava Metziah 87a) is that Ephron took advantage of the situation and price gouged Avraham.