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Parshat VaYeraThe Power that is You

11/06/2022 10:53:09 AM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin


Where does Abraham get the Chutzpah to Challenge G-d?

In this week's Torah portion, we find Abraham and Sarah living with a small group of their students, followers and families at the edge of the wilderness where the empires end.   Seeing three travelers in the desert, he rushes to invite them to partake of food, water and rest.  He doesn't try to convert them to his way of thinking, doesn't try to solve their problems or give them advice.  It's enough for Abraham and Sarah to share their company and provender.  And what comes of their kindness?  On the one hand, great news: the travelers are no mere mortals but divine messengers, sent to share that Sarah will at long last bear a child to continue the new way of life that Abraham and Sarah have created.

But as the travelers depart, G-d reveals grim news to Abraham: the outrage of Sodom and Gomorrah has come before Me and their sin is great. I will go down in judgment- if it is so, then they will end and if not, I will know.  

The evil of Sodom and Gomorrah is the cruelty with which they treat strangers.  Despite their wealth, power and fruitful, blessed land, the Sodomites not only refuse to share or help the vulnerable but their monstrous acts match anything that we read about today.   Not only do they torture and murder those who dare to ask for assistance but they subject those who help them to the same mistreatment. 

And yet, Abraham challenges G-d and tries to defend the people of Sodom: Shall you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Far be it from y ou to do this!  Shall the Judge of the whole earth not do justice?

Abraham knows that there surely must be some good people in Sodom; his nephew Lot lives there and even if he has left the family he still retains the compassion and righteousness he learned from Abraham.  Surely there is reason to hope...

And so G-d listens, agrees to see if there might be some vestige of righteousness and kindness in the Cities of the Plain.  But there is not.  Even Lot, it turns out, has become infected with the evil of Sodom without realizing it.  

But why was G-d willing to listen to Abraham and why was Abraham able to find the inner conviction to argue even with G-d?

To explain why, the Torah gives us a momentary glimpse into G-d's thought: Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?  Abraham is to become a great nation which will be a blessing to all the nations of the earth...  I know that he will bequeath kindness and justice to his children.

For G-d, Abraham moral power gives him a place at the table of the destiny of the world.   But what about Abraham?  Where does he get his belief that he can influence G-d's actions or even has the right to try? 

I believe that it is because of what came right before.  The sin of Sodom is the mistreatment of strangers.  And just now, right before the awful revelation of the destruction of Sodom, Abraham and Sarah had demonstrated their own unconditional kindness and compassion.   Their act of kindness gave them the moral stature and strength to be able to demand justice and kindness- more than that, it gave Abraham the will to do so. 

Abraham stood up to G-d, had the will and ability to stand up to G-d, because he had just performed an act of kindness.  And this act, this Mitzvah, lit the flame of moral courage and power within him to stand up for compassion even to G-d.

Just a small action has the power to lift us up.  And from that higher place, we can see so much farther, understand so much more, advocate and make a difference.  The power of a Mitzvah is not only in the good that it does but in the transformation it can bring in the one who does the Mitzvah, especially if that act of kindness and Jewish connection is done with love and intention-

Shabbat Shalom


Tue, September 26 2023 11 Tishrei 5784