Godliness and Jewish Life
Godliness is a matter of perception – the perception of the individual
himself or herself, as well as the perception of the outside society.
Avraham is recognized, even by his pagan peers, as being a person of
Godliness in their midst. A Godly person is recognizable to others through
behavior, speech, and interpersonal relationships. That is what Rabbi
Yisrael Lipkin of Salant meant in his famous statement: “The other person’s
welfare in this world is the key to my welfare in the eternal world.”
The rabbis of the Talmud always emphasized the importance of one’s
reputation amongst others in his society. “What do the other human beings
say about him?” was always their test of resident Godliness in an
individual. Avraham has an open hand and an open heart, a concern for others
- even those who are his spiritual enemies and are wrongdoers.
Avraham, however, is not a pacifist nor is he weak and naïve in the face of
evil. He goes to war to save Lot and outwits both Pharaoh and Avimelech in
their nefarious behavior toward his wife, Sarah. He is the perfect example
and role model for the necessary practicality and realism of life, coupled
with the Godly compassion for other human beings and their physical and
In Judaism, service of God is always inextricably bound to the service of
human society. As has often been pointed out, this was the central point of
Avraham’s faith, something that apparently was found lacking in his
otherwise righteous predecessor, Noach.
A Godly person has super-sensitive faculties. Avraham hears the heavenly
message to leave his homeland and to journey and settle in the Land of
Israel. The great Rabbi of Kotzk observed that God’s directive was made to
all publicly but only Avraham heard it and acted upon it.
His Godliness in the attitude he exhibited towards others, his
self-sacrifice in defense of his Godly convictions, his opposition to
paganism and its societal and moral ills, and his acts of kindness and
devotion to the help others, all combined to give him the ability to hear
what others were deaf to and to see what others were blind to.
He is able to “see” God appear before him and to conduct a conversation, so
to speak, with his Creator. That is the reward for and the measure of true
Godliness in a person. His Godly personality and home environment transforms
the three Bedouin Arabs who enter his tent into angels. Godliness can be
contagious just as evil is also contagious. ,
Godliness sees the Creator in every activity and occurrence in one’s life
and society. It therefore prevents pettiness, selfishness and
self-aggrandizement from dominating our behavior, speech and attitudes. King
David in Psalms proclaimed: “I have placed God before my eyes permanently!”
By so doing he captured in a phrase the essence of Godliness and Jewish
life. A society that does not strive for at least a modicum of Godliness in
its private lives and public environment will be afflicted with ears that
hear not and eyes that see not. Hopefully, not so the people of Israel,
Avraham’s children and heirs.
Rabbi Berel Wein