Daily Israel Report

Judaism: Divrei Azriel: Receiving = Giving

This first article was written by Shmuel Goldstein. The weekly Torah sheet is edited by Yechezkel Gorelik, who wrote the second article, & Yonoson Kenton.
Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013 6:17 AM


Parshat Vayera, the Torah portion read on Shabbat,  opens with Avraham recovering from his circumcision at the age of 99. As Avraham was sitting in the entrance of his tent, Hashem appeared to him. However, the next few verses, pasukim[1], are somewhat difficult to understand. The pasuk states: "He lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing before him. He saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and bowed toward the ground...."  The following verses then describe the meal and incredible hospitality that Avraham bestowed upon his guests.

This incident is extremely difficult to comprehend. Avraham was in the middle of encountering an open revelation of Hashem in this world; an incredibly intimate and lofty experience. However, as he saw three wandering nomads, he put his conversation with Hashem on hold, and attended to all their needs. Why would Avraham abandon a moment of Divine intimacy to welcome people he did not even know?

Furthermore, Avraham, later on is told that all the people of Sodom will be destroyed. Avraham had a tremendous desire to save the people of Sodom, a people who were the polar opposite of everything Avraham stood for. As taught in the Gemara[2], Sodom was a location of people who had a no tolerance for those who did acts of kindness nd yet Avraham still attempts to save them.

A possible answer can be found in the Gemara[3], "Welcoming guests is greater than welcoming the Shechina". As Avraham was experiencing this conversation with Hashem, he had to focus not just on his own spiritual perfection and refinement, but on being Mamshich Chesed, continuing to do kindness, to the entire world. It was not enough for him to focus just on his own personal service, but rather he desired to share this knowledge with others in every way possible.

It is brought down that after feeding guests Avraham would engage them in conversation and together they would thank Hashem for the kindness he has bestowed upon them. This is indeed why Avraham left an open conversation with Hashem, so that he could open his doors to another lost soul and spread an awareness of one true God.

We learn from this that it is not simply enough to chase after personal spiritual elevation. Rather, one must attempt to share this connection with everyone. As we see from Avraham the more one has to offer, the more of a responsibility and opportunity one has to help others in the goal of achieving a semblance of closeness to Hashem.

What are Morals? 

By Yechezkel Gorelik 

 Our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were pillars of morality. Throughout the generations, until this very day, they remain the role models of Klal Yisrael. They provided a moral blueprint of how to live our lives. Each of our forefathers embodied a distinct character trait. For example, we know that Avraham personified the middah of chessed, lovingkindness.

However, there are two troubling incidents which seemingly challenge this assertion. When Sarah demanded that Avraham banish Hagar and Yishmael, Avraham gave them just bread and water. For someone who totally embodied the characteristic of chessed, this was the complete antithesis of his essence. At the very least he could have provided them with more food and money for their journey.The Ibn Ezra[4] addresses this question and gives the following answer: Hashem had told Avraham to listen to Sarah and obey her command, and Sarah allowed Hagar and Yishmael only the bare minimum. Thus, had Avraham given more, he would have violated Hashem's command.

This presents us with a fascinating insight. Chessed, or any other moral trait, can only be used in situations where it expresses the will of Hashem. Otherwise, it is totally undesirable and even despicable. Morality as whole is something that cannot be subject to the will of man. If man is given the reins, the outcome can potentially be disastrous. Throughout the course of history, there have been times when "man-made morality" has subjected certain elements of humanity to horrific and inhumane conditions, while firmly believing they are acting ethically.

This is not meant to discredit man's search for morality as a whole, as there have been plenty of positive outcomes that have resulted from it. Ultimately, though, only Hashem can act as our true moral compass.

This theory can be used to answer another troubling question regarding our Patriarch, Avraham. How could Avraham have willingly agreed to offer his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice to God? From a sheer moral standpoint, it seems utterly abhorrent and inhumane. Furthermore, the Torah explicitly states that offering human sacrifices is a grave sin[5].

Based on our insight above, we can answer with the following: God dictates morality. Midot are not intrinsically good or bad. They are desirable when they are used in accordance with Hashem's will and utterly undesirable when they are not used to fulfill the will of God. Avraham's sense of morality was put to the test. He had a choice as to whether to follow his own logic and sense of morals or to completely succumb to the will of Hashem.

In a similar vein, there is a famous Gemara[6] that records a machloket, dispute, between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua as to whether or not gentiles receive a portion in the World to Come. Rabbi Eliezer holds that they do not while Rabbi Yehoshua holds that they do. The Rambam[7] follows the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua and states that in addition to accepting the Seven Noahide Laws, the gentiles must accept them solely because Hashem commanded them to and not because of their own moral convictions.

Again we see that morality not governed by God is not considered true morality. That is, even in cases where one's moral values and actions are entirely correct and proper, if they do not express subservience to God one is not credited with moral conduct. Rather, they only act as a mere masquerade. One cannot attempt to independently determine appropriate moral conduct. God's moral code is made to fit everyone, no matter what their background is.

No matter what type of situation we may be in, we must always adhere to the morals of the Torah.

 Notes:

[1] Bereishit 15:2-8
[2] Sanhedrin 109:2
[3] Shabbat 127:1
[4] Bereishit 21:14
[5] Vayikra 20:2
[6] Sanhedrin 105:1
[7]Hilchot Melachim 8:11