Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 27 October 2018 / 18 Heshvan 5779

Parshat Vayera

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Beknown and Beloved

Before G-d carries out His plan to destroy Sodom on account of the incorrigible wickedness of its citizens, He first discloses to Avraham what is about to occur. Avraham is privy to the workings of G-d because Avraham is to become a great and mighty nation, and through it, all the nations of the Earth will be blessed. More, the reason Avraham will bear this great nation is revealed: Ki y’daativ: For I have known him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of G-d, to practice dutiful benevolence, and justice. (Ber. 18:18-19). Avraham is chosen not for his own sake, but for the sake of the great nation that he will found and educate. As the father and educator of this nation, Avraham is given insight into G-d’s decisionsin order to charge it with its eternal, noble mission. This knowledge will assist and guide him in a most awesome educational task.

G-d allows Avraham insight into His ways because He knows Avraham. Yadah — to know — means to perceive by distinguishing characteristics. In the relationship between man and wife, it refers to marital intimacy. In the relationship of G-d to man, knowledge means Divine Providence, where the knowledge of man is expressed in direct involvement in the happenings of his life.

One who is not a devoted follower of G-d is under G-d’s general providence. In Vayikra we are warned: If one walks with G-d casually, and only incidentally performs the Will of G-d — when it is convenient or coincident — then G-d will so walk incidentally with him; his fate and fortune will be left to the vicissitudes of chance. But the righteous whose sole aim in life is to do G-d’s Will on Earth, and thereby make their mission align with the Almighty’s, may cast their burdens and all their needs on their Provider, as they are treated with special providence.

As one who tirelessly sought out G-d’s truth and then made it his life’s mission to spread it, Avraham is so known and beloved. He carries this relationship forward to his children, by teaching them to keep the way of G-d, to practice tzedakah and justice.There are two distinct parts to this educational mission: the way of G-d refers to holiness and purity before G-d (as exemplified by Avraham’s circumcision); to practice tzedakah and justice refers to uprightness in human relationships (as exemplified by Avraham’s hashnasat orchim, hospitality).

Although the two appear to be distinct, they form a single phrase. Not “to keep the way of G-d and practice tzedakah and justice” but “to keep the way of G-d to practice tzedakah and justice.” Circumcision is the cornerstone of this nation — first the people must learn to sanctify and purify the life of the senses and body with proper limits and boundaries, and then it must interact justly and kindly in human relationships. The nation’s social future depends on its moral purity.

When Avraham’s children live these truths, they too are known and beloved, and graced with that special Divine providence.

  • Sources: Commentary, Bereishet 18:17-19

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