By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
The Medrash tells us that young Avraham Avinu was left one day to take care of his father’s store of idols. Avraham Avinu did a bold thing. He smashed all of the idols except for the biggest one and left a hammer perched in the biggest idols hands. In the evening when his father returned and saw that almost his entire inventory of idols was smashed to smithereens, he asked Avram, what happened here? Avram pointed innocently to the lone standing idol and said “They got into a fight and this big guy smashed them all to pieces.” Terach got very angry and said, “What kind of nonsense is this? You know that they can’t fight or protect themselves.” So Avram turned to his father and said, “If they can’t fight or protect themselves, why do you worship them? They’re mere sticks and stones.”
This story made its way to the palace of Nimrod who was perturbed when he heard about this young upstart and revolutionary. They arrested him and brought him to the palace. Nimrod gave Avram a choice: Either he would publically bow down to an idol and renounce his heretical ways or he would be thrown into a furnace of fire. We know that Avram chose to give up his life for his monotheistic beliefs and Hashem miraculously saved him from the smoldering furnace.
After this event, Hashem appeared to Avram and gave him the Divine command of Lech Lecha, to leave Ur Kasdim and travel the length and breadth of Eretz Canaan, the future site of Eretz Yisroel.
The Chasam Sofer, zt”l, zy”a, asks an interesting question. He wonders why we never find that Avraham Avinu risked his life to defy idolatry once he was among the Canaanites. It can’t be because there was no idolatry there. To the contrary, the pesukim tell us that by the Canaanites there was an idolatrous shrine under every moist tree and on every towering mountain. Rather, the Chasam Sofer suggests a very innovative reason. He proposes that back in Ur Kasdim, no one listened to Avraham Avinu’s admonishments. No one hearkened to his monotheistic ideas. At that time, Avraham Avinu could practice martyrdom without hurting anyone. However, once he traveled through Canaan, the Rambam and Ramban inform us that Avraham Avinu developed a following of tens of thousands of disciples. No longer, continues the Chasam Sofer, could Avram afford to risk his life for he was needed by his myriads of followers.
I would like to suggest an entirely different approach in answer to the Chasam Sofer’s question. When Avraham Avinu broke the idols in his father’s shop, he was trying to reform his own family. Except that unfortunately Nimrod got wind of it, and therefore he faced the spectre of death. But, Avraham Avinu never openly defied idolatry. Thus, when he traveled to Canaan, he never put himself in harm’s way. What he did to help his father (which was ultimately successful as Rashi teaches us that Terach repented before he died), was one of Avraham Avinu’s, (the pillar of chesed), great lessons to us about kindness, namely, that charity always starts at home. Avraham Avinu exhibited this when he dangerously broke his father’s idols, in an attempt to save his Father’s soul.. He would again demonstrate this when he was willing to risk his life to save his foolhardy nephew Lot from the clutches of the four mighty kings.
Too often people confuse their priorities and spend too much time at Chinese auctions instead of doing homework with the children, they righteously get involved in a plethora of shul activities while their wives are at home as lebedig almonas, living as lonely widows. We must know that sometime the Yetzer Hara uses chesed as bait to get people to be derelict from their first priority. Avraham Avinu, whose life was the model for chesed, teaches us that family always comes first and sometimes we have to make huge sacrifices for the sake of our families.
May Hashem bless us with the insight to achieve the correct balance between oneself, one’s family, one’s friends, one’s shul and one’s community, and in that merit may was be granted long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Please learn, give tzedaka, and daven l’iluy nishmas of Miriam Liba bas Aharon.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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