After being informed of the decree to destroy S'dom, Avraham pleads that
the people of S'dom should be spared on account of the righteous people
there. His prayer is accepted, but ten righteous people are not found, and
the cities of S'dom and Amorah are destroyed. In the merit of Avraham,
however, his nephew Lot is spared. (19:29)
Later, the Torah tells the story of the Akeida. Avraham was prepared to
sacrifice his son Yitzchak on the altar. He was informed that the
sacrifice was unnecessary, since Avraham had shown that he would not
withhold anything from Hashem.
How can we understand this parsha? Avraham argues with Hashem to save the
wicked people of S'dom, but his own son he binds to the altar. On the one
hand, we are shocked: he is prepared to do so much for the evil-doers, and
such harm to his beloved son -- on the other hand, in each case he
offered, but did not succeed. In spite of Avraham's intercession, S'dom
was destroyed, Yitzchak was not sacrificed.
What lessons are there in these mysterious episodes? By nature, we are
prepared to destroy our enemies, and shower our kindred with kindness.
Avraham, though, struggles with nature. He is prepared to plead for the
wicked; he is prepared to bind his kindred on the altar.
Still, S'dom cannot escape its due; Yitzchak is freed from his binding.
S'dom was given the full brunt of justice; Yitzchak -- the great
blessings. Avraham doesn't seem to change anything.
Perhaps it is not so. Avraham's actions are subtle, hidden from the eyes
of the world. Perhaps the symbolic actions performed by Avraham have a
subtle effect behind the scenes.
Avraham sought to calm the force of the divine anger. The verses state,
(18:33-34) "Hashem left, as He finished speaking with Avraham, and Avraham
returned to his place... The two angels came to S'dom..." Rashi explains:
when the judge leaves, the defending advocate leaves, but the executor
remains active. Indeed, Avraham was the effective advocate. On the way
to S'dom, the angels delayed; "perhaps Avraham would be able to intercede
on the side of mercy." (Rashi, 19:1) Ramban suggests that saving Lot was
not part of the original plan. (18:2) It must have been deemed necessary
due to Avraham's intercession.
Avraham was successful in tempering and balancing the divine anger with
With his son Yitzchak as well, Avraham sought balance. His great love for
his son was tempered. According to the Kabbalah, the binding was a
turning point in Yitzchak's life. (See Ohr Hachaim) From now on, he would
have the strength and fortitude to lead the generations.
We say in our davening: "Just as Avraham subdued his love for his son in
order to perform Your Will, so may Your Mercy subdue Your Anger towards
us..." What does Avraham's subduing his love for his son have to do with
Hashem subduing His anger? It's the balancing effect. In return for
balancing discipline with love for his son, Avraham is able to convince
Hashem to temper strict justice with mercy.
Concepts and Mussar from Kelm -- translated from the
original "Chochma Ummusar."
Rav Simcha Zissel Ziev
Tenth Letter, Part Two -- Student's Summary (Continued)
In this summary of the Alter's remarkable ideas, a picture of great
sensitivity and rigorous integrity emerges. Leaders must accept public
responsibility reluctantly, realizing the enormous consequences of their
leadership. This attitude contrasts sharply with those who rush into
community work without preparation, although the Alter adds that
situations of immediate necessity may be different.
Fifth point. There are two prerequisites for working with people: Ability
and readiness. As far as ability goes, he must train himself fully with
the necessary subject matter. If he has the ability, he can take care of
himself and others as well, without being overburdened.
Regarding 'readiness', he must train himself to deal with people. He must
be inspired with fear of heaven (because the risk of misleading people is
great). The Rabbis stated in Pirke Avos: "All those who work with the
public should do so for the sake of heaven."
A Sixth Point. It must be prohibited as a strict halacha to give
instructions to others without having incorporated the teachings oneself.
Seventh point. One who desires wisdom as a priceless bounty, and sees the
vast work lying ahead, will naturally flee from working with the
multitude. How can he forsake his concern for repairing his own
shortcomings? The exceptions will be at times of necessity... even then,
however, he may commence only after he has fulfilled the conditions
Eighth point. Working for the public good is dangerous; so much so, that
it is not enough that one flees from such responsibility. One must pray
and fast repeatedly that he be granted mercy from heaven and be protected
from being overburdened by the public.
This is due to the immense fear of Heaven, felt by even the greatest
sages, such as the talmudic masters, prophets and in the generation of
Moshe. All were concerned with the burden of the congregation, until it
was said: "Place upon them the needs of the congregation, and they will
fall by themselves."
Ninth point. The first and foremost condition for dealing with community
concerns is to be as far as possible from self-interest. All the
strenuous work must be entirely to increase truth and glorify it, without
seeking any tangible benefit.
The Love of Self
Tenth point. We have learned that ulterior motivation is the beginning of
the great fall, whether the self-interest be in terms of money, honor, or
anything else. It is impossible for one who loves himself, to avoid
stumbling into the trap of flattery, to avoid twisting true premises into
a myriad of falsehoods. Besides destroying himself, he will do great
damage to the multitude.
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Bais Medrash Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim Kiryas Radin
Ramapo, New York 10977