The obvious question that troubles us when we read this parsha, or when we think of our father Avraham in general terms, is why was Avraham successful in influencing his generation and all subsequent generations while the great pious Noach who preceded him was apparently incapable of being such a force? The obvious answer to that obvious question is, in my opinion, that Avraham was a people person.
He did not build arks nor did he warn of impending disasters. His methodology for spreading monotheism and goodness in the world was by example, by being a powerfully good person. People respond to people.
All of us who have engaged in fundraising for worthwhile causes are aware that people give mainly because of the relationship of the individual representing the institution or cause than to the objective merit of the cause or institution itself. Again, people respond to people.
Avraham and Sarah were exemplary people and people listened to them and responded to their ideas and message. All great movements in Jewish history were created by people and became popular because of the people who founded and led them. For example, one need only look at the Chasidic movement of the eighteenth century and the Mussar movement of the nineteenth century. The ideas and goals of these movements were far reaching and appealing but their popularity was based solely on the relationship of its leading people to other people.
The Baal Shem Tov and his followers and Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant and his followers made those movements successful in their time because of their ability to relate to people, both one on one and generally as well.
Avraham had boundless faith in the innate ability of people to do good. Even in dealing with the wicked populations of Sodom and Amorah in next week’s parsha, he is convinced that there is a hard core of goodness even in that evil population. Maybe that is unrealistic on his part in practical result but that is his nature and inclination.
And, it is his natural ebullience and care for others that eventually causes even those lukewarm to his ideas to proclaim that “you are a prince of the Lord who lives in our midst.” Avraham faced many disappointments and frustrations in his long life. Family problems abounded and wars and conflicts were his lot in his earthly existence. The rabbis taught us in Avot that Avraham was tested ten times. Nevertheless his faith and good nature, developed over his lifetime, carried him through all of those tests, severe as they may have been.
He was able to encompass in his thoughts and efforts all peoples and nations – and he became the father of a multitude of peoples and societies. Though the Jewish people are a particular and even parochial group of human individuals, our Torah demands of us a universal outlook as well. This is an inheritance from our father Avraham and reflects God’s concern, so to speak, for all of His creatures. That is why the Torah demands that we in our personal lives measure ourselves according to the yardstick established by Avraham and Sarah, the founders of our people.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com