By Rabbi Naphtali Hoff
This week’s parsha tells of one of the most intriguing – and munificent – acts ever recorded in the annals of our nation’s long, storied history. It is the sequence in which Avraham advocates on behalf the few righteous residents of S’dom and its sister cities, after learning of divine plans for their collective destruction.
I would think that most of us, if we were informed that a large band of lawless (or at least, to borrow the contemporary parlance, “morally challenged”), sinful individuals were slated for destruction, would be more than content to leave things as they were. After all, Hashem had clearly seen enough, to the point where He had already determined, in his infinite wisdom and with his boundless compassion, to terminate their existence. Certainly, society would be far better off without these moral renegades.
Yet, Avraham was not so inclined, and fought vigorously for some form of clemency on their behalf. And he did so multiple times, not relenting until he was told that less than a quorum of righteous people resided in all of these municipalities combined. It is clear that Avraham was doing far more than clearing his personal conscious when he pleaded for a merciful outcome time and again.
His nobility of character is underscored in a most unusual pasuk, which is recorded following Avraham’s first attempt at advocacy. “And Avraham answered and said, ‘Behold now I have commenced to speak to the L-rd, although I am dust and ashes.'” According to Bamidbar Rabbah 9:15, it was due to this statement of self-effacement that his descendants merited to receive two specific mitzvos: the dust of the sotah (as part of the investigation into her possible infidelity, she was required to drink a mixture of “dust” (erased writing including the name of Hashem) and water), and the ashes of parah aduma, which are sprinkled on those who have become tamei on the highest level.
As a reward for his having expressed himself so humbly, Avraham’s children would be able to engage in mitzvos that are rooted in selflessness. In the case of parah aduma, it was a chance to fulfill a divine mandate despite a lack of true understanding of its underlying purpose.
This is the statute (chok) of the Torah which the Lord commanded, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid.’ (Bamidbar 19:2) Because Satan and the nations of the world taunt Israel, saying, “What is this commandment, and what purpose does it have?” (Rashi, ibid, quoting Yoma 67b)
The mitzvah involving the sotah directly reflects on Hashem’s “humility”, allowing His own name to be erased as a means of clearing the name of a Jewish woman and reinstating domestic harmony between her and her husband. Because Avraham displayed such intense modesty in his actions, his progeny merited to experience Hashem’s humility, even at a time of severe human degradation.
But it appears that there was more than selfless humility at play in this unusual exchange. Immediately after the malachim had departed from his home on their way to S’dom, Hashem decided that it was inappropriate to keep Avraham out of the loop of what was due to transpire.
And Hashem said, “Shall I conceal from Avraham what I am doing? And (he) will become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the world will be blessed in him. For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of Hashem, to do justice and judgment. (Bereishis 18:17-19)
The placement of this description of Avraham as parent and teacher par excellence cannot be overlooked. It is precisely because of the fact that Hashem possessed the ultimate confidence in how Avraham would rear his offspring, and instill within them the necessary values of fidelity to Hashem and righteousness, that He brought him into the conversation and offered him the opportunity to advocate for these sinners.
It would be improper for Me to do this thing without his knowledge. I gave him this land, and these five cities are his… I called him Avraham, the father of a multitude of nations. Now, can I destroy the sons without informing the father, who loves Me? (Rashi to Bereishis 18:17)
Avraham understood that these people who had been condemned to death were in some way his own children; he could not allow for them to be destroyed without at least attempting saving them. But his drive to help did not emanate exclusively out of a so-called paternal link. Avraham felt that he could make a difference, and possibly influence the sinners’ behavior for the better. It was for that reason that he continued to negotiate with Hashem, until he sensed that there was no longer a possibility of influencing change.
Unfortunately, there are many individuals within our community, particularly amongst our youth, that we tend to “write off”, based on the sinful life that they have embraced. This tendency may be attributable to our own quest for self-preservation, a fear of being tainted by the objectionable behaviors that these individuals have embraced. Perhaps we are too fearful of identifying holes in our communal and educational systems, and examining what went wrong along the way. Or maybe, chas v’shalom, we simply do not care enough, or even feel hatred towards, those who have rejected the lifestyle that we hold so dear.
It would appear from this parasha that we need to develop a greater sense of ownership to a growing problem, and do everything within our power not only to advocate, but to positively influence as well. As Avraham’s actions make clear, there are few problems that cannot be solved if the requisite degree of care, concern and mostly, love, is present. Let us all try to learn and internalize this powerful lesson from our great forebear, so that we can begin to stem the tide of disconnect from within our own ranks, and raise generations of fully engaged and committed children.
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and President of Impactful Coaching and Consulting. He can be reached at 212.470.6139 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.