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 spiritual plights.
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
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