Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel WeinCourtesy

Wars, family dysfunction, and the danger of future extinction are the challenges that confront our father Avraham and our mother Sarah in the narrative that dominates this week’s Torah reading. In this era, correcting the past and editing personal biographies to make people’s lives appear perfect, serene and smooth, is especially true. This methodology attempts to make the subject character the model and prototype for others to admire and perhaps even imitate.

Who wants to have a life of troubles, frustrations, domestic strife and risk of destruction – all for the sake of a noble but very unpopular cause? So, why would the Torah not wish to at least “pretty up” the story of Avraham and his family at least by omission if not by commission? Of course the Torah is the book of absolute truth and therefore brooks none of the human weaknesses that affect all of us when dealing – even in our most objective attempt – with narratives and biographies.

The message here is that truth is the most important value and outweighs all other considerations. The Torah is determined to teach us that life, even for the greatest of people, is oftentimes difficult, disappointing, and sometimes even cruel. And, that faith and commitment, goodness and morality are the supports that justify our very existence, no matter the challenges that constantly engulf human life. We are not bidden to emulate Avraham’s life experiences. We are bidden to emulate his traits of belief and resilience, commitment and unwavering goodness.

We are taught that God’s seal, so to speak, is truth. Truth is the gift that we ask God to grant to Yaakov and his descendants. Maimonides explains to us that we are not to serve idols, believe in superstitions and worship the dead, because all of these are false, little more than a pack of lies. And all of that is also applicable to belief in ideologies that have long lost any sense of truth, as to their goals and certainly as to their methods and policies.

Avraham sees that Sodom is to be destroyed because of its falseness.

He recognizes that Avimelech cannot be trusted because he is a hypocritically false person.

And Avraham reserves the right to serve the cause of God’s truth even at the cost, originally, of his own life, and later that of his own beloved son. The Talmud describes our world as being “a world of falseness.” Yet knowing that we inhabit a world of falseness is the first step towards advancing into a world of honesty and truth.

That is what is meant by the biblical admonition to attempt to go in God’s ways. To be aware of the difference between falsehood and truth is the necessary ingredient for intelligent life and eternal faith. Avraham’s difficulties in life point us towards the way of realism and truth. It knows no compromises or avoidances. It is eternal.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein