Vayera

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

Abraham came forward and said: "Will you stamp out the righteous along with the wicked? What if there should be fifty righteous people in the midst of the city? Would you still stamp it out rather than spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous within it?" (Genesis 18, 23, 24)

Abraham's relationship with G‑d had been solidified. Through His Angel, G‑d had informed our first Patriarch of the miracle of the birth of Isaac; the one who would assume Abraham's mantle as the progenitor of monotheism in the world - G‑d's faithful and noble knight.

"And Hashem said: Shall I conceal from Abraham what I do, now that Abraham is surely to become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the world shall bless themselves by him?" G‑d explains to Abraham that He intends to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if He finds that the iniquities of their populations are real.

At this point we are treated to a dialogue between Abraham and G‑d that seems puzzling at the very least. Abraham, who, as the famous Midrash recounts regarding the episode in his father's idol shop, found G‑d through deductive reasoning (i.e., why would one pray to idols if they can be broken and are fashioned by man himself?), is now arguing with G‑d. "What if there should be fifty righteous people in the midst of the City?... It would be sacrilege to You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the righteous along with the wicked..." Could Abraham actually believe that the Alm‑ghty, the Benevolent Creator of the world, would not make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked? What was Abraham thinking?

Indeed our Sages are as well disturbed by this dialogue. The famed Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the Chsam Sofer, offers an interesting insight into Abraham's psyche. He suggests that what Abraham was attempting to do was to protect G‑d's honor in the world. Abraham is suggesting that it would be inappropriate for G‑d's prestige in the world to destroy these two cities if within their walls dwell fifty who outwardly appear righteous but in their own private lives are actually sinners. The specter of a G‑d who destroys those whom society views as righteous is for Abraham, the singular defender of G‑d in the world, an event that must be avoided at all costs if he is to truly champion the cause of monotheism among humankind. Essentially then, Abraham is not questioning G‑d's judgment but rather suggesting to G‑d that humankind's poor judgment, its inability to truly see People as they really are, must be factored into the Holy charge entrusted to our first Patriarch. He, Abraham, is compelled to foster belief in G‑d in a frail, limited world, in which too often individuals do not make the required effort to truly understand what is transpiring, but rather are content to accept as fact the veneer, the outward trappings, as the truth of a situation. Therefore, those who appear righteous, although under proper analysis would be understood as quite the opposite, must be spared to facilitate Abraham's life long commitment to bring humankind to believe in the one true G‑d of all Creation.

This very same human frailty is an element in Halacha as we are advised to take into consideration "what the human eye perceives" in our public actions. We are counseled not to frequent a location if there is a possibility that our presence could be interpreted as negative, as demonstrating our own lack of religious commitment. The well-known wisdom that we are judged by the friends we keep is but another practical example of this concept.

How often are we frustrated by the acceptance by society as a whole of an individual as righteous when we, from our own personal experience, know with a surety, that the truth is quite the opposite. We speak out only to be vilified by others as a vicious and callous person whose only desire seems to be to pull down others. It is an extremely difficult task to foster real truth in a world that seems only to focus in on veneer.

Abraham knew well this malady of his fellow human beings. He understood that the fostering of truth in the belief in G‑d must take into consideration the frailties of the human being. Even the perception of attacking the pseudo-righteous individual could result in the further rejection of G‑d by His own creation. Unwilling to accept the righteousness of the Alm‑ghty in His every action, humankind stands in judgment of G‑d from the valley of its own ignorance and worse, its unwillingness to at least attempt to seek the truth.

There is no clearer example of this phenomenon in today's world than the treatment Israel regularly receives at the hands of the international community and, particularly, at the hands of the United Nations. Recently, the Secretary General of the United Nations in an address prior to the one delivered by President Bush, singled out Israel, and only Israel, as the example of the State which regularly violates the human rights of others. This coming as it does from an individual who is a citizen of Sudan - Sudan, a society in which nothing less than genocide of Christians is the norm; Sudan, a society in which the term Holocaust is appropriate; Sudan a society in which Arab Muslims are presently mass murdering African Muslims because the area in which the African Muslims reside is rich in oil. Yet, the Secretary General singles out Israel for derision and ridicule. The world media and sadly the American media as well are equally guilty of condemning Israel at every turn. All our protestations, all our attempts to assist the average person in getting past the veneer to see the facts as they really are, seem fruitless.

The age old plague of anti-Semitism, now once again increasing in Europe, is as well based upon this terrible human failing. The Jews killed the "son" of G‑d, the Jews brought the Black plague upon Europe, the Jews harbor an international conspiracy to take over the world, and so many other absurd and wild accusations against our People, all baseless and easily debunked with a little effort and understanding, nevertheless thrive in a world uninterested in getting to the truth - content upon relying on the veneer, the media-bite, the unsubstantiated accusation as all the truth they require.

Abraham knew this well and took into consideration this unfortunate and always prevalent flaw in human nature when speaking with G‑d concerning His determination that Sodom and Gemorrah were so steeped in evil that the only alternative was their total destruction. We too, in defending our People and the State of Israel, must always bear in mind this glaring human fault if we are to forge ahead in defense of our beloved Jewish State and, in our collective task, first undertaken by Abraham himself, to bring the message of G‑d's truth to the world.