Weekly Torah Commentary — Vayeira November 7, 2014

Genesis/Bresheit 18-22

After the beginnings of human history yielded several examples of the misuse of the gift of free choice, a new figure comes on the scene: Abram, who will eventually have his name changed to Abraham.

As we are introduced to him, he is commanded to leave his land, birthplace and father’s house and travel “to the land I will show you,” but why? What does God want him to do there? What is his calling?  What is so special about him that warrants his becoming the father of many nations? We are not initially told.

At the root of the failures of Adam and Eve, and of Noah’s generation was a failure of responsibility.  Abraham stands out as very different.

One of the first things we notice about him is that he, by contrast to his predecessors, does demonstrate personal responsibility.  When his servants and the servants of Lot begin to quarrel, Abram steps forward with a solution:

Abram said to Lot, “Let there not be a quarrel between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.” (Gen. 13: 8-9)

Unlike many of us, Abraham does not pass judgement; does not debate about whose fault it is or who started the argument.  He does not even concern himself about who will end up with the better deal! He sees the problem and he acts.

Shortly afterwards a local war breaks out and Lot is among the people taken captive. Immediately Abraham assembles warriors, pursues the invaders, rescues Lot and with him all the other captives. And…he takes no interest in acquiring spoils of the victory.  Unlike Cain, Abram appears to understand that he is his brother’s keeper; that humans have a moral responsibility towards each other.  Despite the fact that Lot had chosen to go live in Sodom, Abram did not assume a “got-what-he-deserved” attitude but chose responsibility because it was the right thing to do, not because Lot ‘deserved’ it, necessarily.

Then God informs Abram that He is about to pass judgment on Sodom and Abram challenges the Almighty:

“Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do justice?”

When you stop and think about this, it’s rather remarkable. By what right does the creature challenge the Creator, God himself?

Read the passage carefully:

Then the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him” … Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

Those words, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” suggest that God wanted Abraham to respond. It was a test.

You see, Abraham’s behavior can only be rightly understood when compared to Noah’s. God also told Noah in advance that He was going to judge the world:

So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.”

But Noah did not protest. Noah accepted the verdict and set about building a huge boat. Abraham, on the other hand, challenged the impending judgment. Abraham pleaded for mercy. Why? Because he understood that humanity is a community and we are responsible for one another.  The people of Sodom were not his personal family, yet he interceded on their behalf because they were fellow human beings, created by the same God who had created him.

So, why did God ‘invite’ Abraham to challenge Him?

Abraham was to become the role model for and initiator of not just one nation, Israel, but many nations.  To him fell the responsibility to exemplify the kind of faith that his descendants would need, a faith at once strong but also humble, courageous but also dependent on Almighty God, individual but also communal.  He was to model a faith that goes beyond ‘me and mine’ to ‘all of us’.

Abraham never held a ‘political office’. However, he was a role model of genuine leadership. He took responsibility. He was decisive; he didn’t wait for others to act; he took action himself. Of Noah, the Torah says, “he walked with God.” But to Abraham, God himself said, “Walk before me,” (Gen. 17: 1), meaning: be a leader. Walk forthrightly. Take moral responsibility for yourself and your family, but not just for yourself. Take responsibility for humanity.

Self-centeredness that does not concern itself with the needs of others is irresponsible.

Communal or national consciousness that degrades the individual is arrogant and dangerous.

True responsibility begins with you but doesn’t end with you.  It cares about your fellowman as well. Considering the needs of others as important as our own is what we are called to do.

In Tune with Torah this week = Abraham stands throughout history as a towering example of kindness, selflessness and responsibility towards God and towards mankind.  As children of Abraham, whether by natural birth or by adoption, it behooves us to follow his example and walk the moral high ground in our society.

Shabbat Shalom

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