November 6th-7th, 1998
Cheshvan 18, 5759
This week's issue was written by Rabbi Dovid Frost.
There are many beautiful and instructive episodes in this week's portion--Avraham's superb
treatment of his guests (which serves as an example to us all of how to show kindness),
his fervent prayer for the survival of the city of S'dom, Lot's hair's-breadth escape from
that site of cruelty and meanness, the birth of Yitzhak, the departure of Yishmael from
Avraham's home, and finally, the Binding of Yitzhak (the ultimate in human submission to
the will of
One story, however, seems rather repetitive: the abduction of Sarah --
posing as Avraham's sister -- by the King of Gerar, Avimelech. We had something similar in last week's
parsha, when Avraham (Avram then) went down to Egypt and Sarah (Sarai) was taken to
But there is one noticeable difference. After each monarch is stricken by Hashem with a
fearsome plague (thereby getting the message that Sarah is Avraham's wife, and off
limits), he confronts Avraham with the question of why he wasn't forthright about Sarah's
status. In last week's parsha, Avraham doesn't answer Pharaoh; in this week's
parsha, he does respond to Avimelech--and with two answers. We are going to focus on
the first one.
"And Avimelech said to Avraham, 'What did you see that you did such a thing?'
And Avraham said, 'Because I said there is not any fear of G-d in this place, and
they will slay me because of my wife.'" (20, 10-11)
What is the meaning of Avraham's statement? Rashi quotes the Talmud: "When a
guest comes to town, do the inhabitants ask him about food and drink [which he may need],
or do they inquire about his wife, asking, 'Is she your wife, or is she your
sister?'" Avraham, a traveler from a foreign country, understood the essence of
the native people by what question they asked him.
Yet, why didn't Avraham answer in a similar way to Pharaoh in Egypt?
The Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, head of
the great Volozhin Yeshivah in the 19th century) gives an insightful answer. The
people of Gerar, Avimlech's country, were not like the Egyptians, openly and completely
"steeped in immorality," (as Rashi states in last week's parsha). Rather,
Avimelech's people showed basic etiquette and proper manners. But--here's the
crucial point-- it was not fear of G-d that motivated their actions; the morality they
attained was a result of their human intellect. As the Netziv goes on to explain,
someone lacking fear of Hashem is ultimately not able to control the urges that powerfully
sway his mind and heart. Therefore, Avraham said to Avimelech: "You would have
come to kill me to take my wife. What would have stopped you from doing that to
which your evil inclination leads you?"
In Gerar, Avraham saw beneath the surface of the country's pleasing mores, and answered
Avimelech's question to that effect.
There is an idea in Torah sources that the two tablets of the 10 Commandments are really
one, and that any two commandments that lie next to each other on opposite tablets share a
common message. (See Rashi on Shir HaShirim: 4, 5). For example, the top two
commandments are the first, "I am Hashem, your G-d," and next to it
horizontally, the sixth, "Don't murder." The connection is clear, and goes
along with what we have already discussed: without true fear of G-d--an acceptance that we
are held responsible for all of our actions by the True Judge--, anything can be
rationalized...even taking the life of another human being.
A person may be kind, pleasant, popular and everything else, but without some objective
standard of behavior that does not change due to social trends or personal desires, he
could decide to do anything. No holds barred. The European country best known
in the modern world for its etiquette and proper manners, its gentility and cultural
sophistication, was the one that propagated the worst butchery history has ever seen.
It doesn't matter where we live, or what cars we drive. Without fear of G-d, anything can
be explained away or buried under the carpet. And, on the other hand, when there is
true fear of G-d in a place, we can feel safe no matter what the level of material or
Avraham was aware of this attitude in his generation,
and he prepared himself accordingly. Let's be aware of this in our own times, and
focus our lives on doing what is truly right.
Insights Into Genesis
Insights Into Exodus
Edelstein is Director of the Savannah Kollel/ Savannah Torah Education Project. Phone:
fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
Please be in
touch with us.
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of the Savannah Kollel.
5759 years old...
or 5 billion?
Come explore the topic in the second of a 4-part lecture series on Judaism and Modern
Science, taught by Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Director of Savannah Torah Education
Tuesday, November 10th, 7:45PM at the J.E.A.
"Creation and the Big Bang:
The Origin and Age of Our Universe"
Sponsored by Rambam Day School, STEP and the J.E.A. Call the J.E.A. to register:
ALSO:CRASH COURSE IN HEBREW--THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 12TH, 7;30, AT THE J.E.A. 5 THURSDAY
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