by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
Torah Reading: Gen. 18.1-22.24. Haftara II Kings 4.1-37 (Sephardi ritual: II Kings 4.1-23).
Further materials by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum relating to this and the ensuing parshahs about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, can be found in EARTH & SPIRIT
G-d's Covenant with Abraham, marked by the sign of circumcision, brought Abraham to an entirely new level, making him worthy of fathering Isaac, the descendants of whose son Jacob have been the guardians of G-d's Torah and a "light to the nations" throughout history. While the Covenant is a unique bond between G-d and the Children of Israel, it is of significance for the entire world, and our parshah, which shows Abraham recovering from his circumcision and the ensuing events, is replete with teachings that apply to all humanity.
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The simple, beautiful narrative of Abraham's hospitality to seeming wayfarers with which the parshah begins is in counterpoint with the later accounts of the "hospitality" of the Sodomites and of Avimelech king of Gerar.
Hospitality -- treating
strangers and visitors kindly -- is one of the foundations of a civilized world
and a defining trait of true Bney Adam. For man's
existential situation on this earth is that he himself is but a stranger subject
to the mercy of G-d. As Abraham says before G-d, the BAAL
HABAYIT ("Owner of the House") in our parshah: "I am dust and
ashes" (Gen. 18:27). Abraham says to the children of Ches (Gen. 23:4): "I am a stranger and a resident with
Through the simple human act of showing hospitality to strangers and visitors even under difficult circumstances (Abraham was in the wilderness -- we are not talking about "entertaining" friends for dinner) man imitates his Maker, the Owner of the House. Man himself becomes the "host", providing his guests not only with their physical needs but also with spiritual nourishment. Abraham gave his visitors the waters of spirituality with which to "wash their feet" of false ideas. He brought them in to "rest under the tree" -- the Tree of Life. These are the ways of peace. When we sit down to talk peacefully with visitors and strangers about Torah and the purpose of life, this brings the Divine Presence to dwell with us. Pursuing such ways of peace made Abraham worthy of miracles -- the miracle of the birth of Isaac, a worthy successor.
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THE WAY OF G-D
G-d Himself testifies of Abraham that "he will instruct his sons and his house after him and they will guard the way of HaShem to practice righteousness and justice." (Gen. 18:19). The sign of the covenant is inscribed upon man's organ of procreation in order to teach him that he must elevate his sexual power above the pursuit of selfish gratification. He is to dedicate his strength to the breeding and raising of future generations who will be G-d's torch-bearers in the world, practicing righteousness and justice. The purpose of the commandment to procreate, which was given to Adam, is to fill the world with sons and daughters who are true Bney Adam having TZURAT ADAM, the "essential form" of Adam not merely physically but spiritually. Only when the world will be filled with people who possess this form will it be possible to say that the world is truly civilized. (Likutey Moharan II:7).
It was because of
Abraham's merit that G-d revealed to him the imminent destruction of
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Abraham's virtue as guardian of G-d's Covenant shines out in contrast to the wickedness of his generation in a "civilization" run amok. Those who are familiar with the stark, eerie desert mountain landscape of the YAM HAMELACH ("Salt" or "Dead Sea") area with its unique climate and colors may try to imagine it as the setting for one of the most sophisticated "civilizations" that ever was. For prior to the raining down of G-d's anger on Sodom and the neighboring towns in the form of fire and brimstone, that same area was once luxuriantly fertile "like G-d's garden" (Gen. 13:10). The desolate desert areas around the Yam HaMelach are gaunt, testimony to the fact that unless man repents, sin leads to destruction. Human immorality can destroy not only man himself but the very physical environment around him. (The same lesson is implicit later on in our Parshah in the illness that afflicted Avimelech and his household when he kidnapped Sarah.)
The destruction of the
The inhabitants of
Gang-rape of two apparent visiting strangers was the Sodomites idea of a "gay" evening. ["Gay" sex was also one of the things to which Ishmael later tried to submit Isaac -- see Rashi on Gen. 21:9 -- the other two being idolatry and murder.]
The Sodomites typify
methodical human nastiness in the guise of rights and laws. MIDAS SODOM --
characteristically Sodomite traits -- are typified in many places in the
Talmud, such as in the concept of refusing a person some benefit even when one
has nothing to loose, or "mine is mine and yours is yours" (Avos 5:10). The Sodomites rebelled against the law of G-d,
making up their own merciless laws, rebelling against any effort to reform
them, as when they reminded
The mystery of the story
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THE KIDNAPPING OF SARAH
Sin need not lead to destruction -- if the sinner repents and makes amends. Like the behavior of the Sodomites, Avimelech's behavior in kidnapping a visiting woman he presumed to be single also fell far short of the standards of hospitality and treatment of strangers G-d wants in the world. There was no fear of G-d in Gerar -- it was a place where if they had thought Abraham was Sarah's husband, they would have killed him to get her. However, unlike the Sodomites, Avimelech was willing to accept rebuke. The story of Avimelech's dream teaches that people of all nations may be worthy of dreams and visions from G-d. As Elijah the Prophet stated: "I testify that anyone, Israelite or gentile, freeman or slave, man or woman can attain holy spirit" (Tanna devei Eliyahu). We must be willing to hear and heed the voice of G-d's rebuke, and to see the hand of G-d in the things that afflict us in this world, just as Avimelech learned that the mysterious disease afflicting his entire household was caused by immorality.
Abraham's prayer for Avimelech's healing is the first recorded prayer for healing in the Torah, teaching us the power of altruistic prayer to bring healing and rectification (Likutey Moharan II:1, see Wings of the Sun.)
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The reward for Abraham's acceptance of the Covenant was the miraculous birth of a son born in purity -- a worthy successor. Abraham's uniqueness lay in his originality: he rebelled against his childhood homeland culture to become a Baal Teshuvah. On the other hand, Isaac's uniqueness, as the second generation, one "born into" the faith, lay in his willingness to submit to a discipline imposed upon him from childhood without rebelling. Only through such submission can the faith survive and be transmitted from generation to generation.
Rashi (Gen. 21:10) tells
us that Ishmael contested Isaac's inheritance from Abraham, claiming priority
as the firstborn. The descendants of Ishmael dispute Isaac's inheritance until
today, claiming that the heritage of Abraham is theirs. Thus the concept of submission,
which is central to the faith of Abraham, has a prominent place in Islam.
According to the Moslems, Abraham's binding of his son -- the archetypal case
of submission to G-d -- was performed on Ishmael on a mountain in
The mountain where
Abraham and Isaac performed the supreme act of submission, each in his own way,
is none other than
The Torah testifies in our parshah that this is the mountain where G-d will be seen and revealed (Gen. 22:14).
Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum