Parshas Vayeira relates that Avraham Avinu, upon hearing that G-d was planning to destroy the cities of Sodom and Amorah, proceeded to pray and beg Hashem to spare the cities.
Why, ask many of the commentators, did Avraham cry out on behalf of the people of Sodom and Amorah? The Rambam, in Hilchos Teshuvah, clearly states that the scales of Divine judgment apply to cities and countries and, in fact, to the entire world, just as they do to humans. Surely Avraham knew that cities as debauched as Sodom and Amorah deserved to be destroyed!
Furthermore, we are taught that Avraham embodied the essence of kindness. Sodom was unquestionably the antithesis of Avraham's raison d'etre. It would seem that nothing should have given Avraham more satisfaction than seeing these cities destroyed. And yet, he prayed for their salvation.
Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel points out that for Avraham to feel satisfaction in the destruction of these people would only prove that he himself had adopted their ways --the very nature that he so detested. Avraham's wish was that the wickedness of Sodom be destroyed, not the people.
At the start of every month we repeat the words of the Psalmist, asking G-d, "Yitamu chata'im min ha'aretz," normally translated as "May sinners cease from the world." But that's not correct. In the Talmud, Bruria points out, "Chotim lo ne'emar"--the verse does not ask for sinners to be destroyed, but for chata'im to be destroyed. It is the sin that is detested, not the sinner.
Our Forebears established the Jewish spiritual DNA, the template for the soul of every Jew who followed. The remarkable sensitivity and concern that was the essence of Avraham has been one of the defining characteristic of Jews throughout the millennia. But something seems to have changed. We are living in a time of unprecedented arrogance. A half a century ago, when European Orthodoxy went up the chimneys of Auschwitz, American Orthodox Jews were skeptical of their future. Never did they imagine that fifty years later there would be more Jews studying in yeshivas then ever before.
Never would they have imagined that fifty years later the Wall Street Journal would run a front page article declaring that the only movement in Judaism showing vibrancy, growth and long-term viability is the Orthodox community. The arrogance is well earned, yet it is out of place for the children of Avraham. We have no spiritual leeway for arrogance. Our Sages teach, in a play on words, that the splendor (gayus) of Torah can easily slip into arrogance (ga'avah). That arrogance distorts the Torah to the point that a young man can decide that it is okay to kill another Jew based on his own perverted understanding of Halachah.
That arrogance distorts the Torah to the point that an Orthodox man in the street upon being asked by a CNN reporter to respond to the murder, can say, "I wish it had happened sooner."
Arrogance and insensitivity are character traits that are not inherently Jewish. We are, by nature, the very opposite of those features. Our nature is to be like Avraham, to be concerned with the fate of every person in the world, certainly with the fate of every Jew, Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. We must re-train ourselves to feel anguish, not anger, when we see chilul Shabbos. We have to cease seeing the Jewish world as a collection of political and theological camps, and see it as a nation of Jews. Period.
Strident opposition to non-Torah "movements" is a given. However, we can't lose sight of the fact that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. If Avraham Avinu could find it in his heart to care about the fate of the people of Sodom, is it too much for us to care about each other--regardless of affiliation?
Let us commit ourselves to redoubling our efforts on behalf of our people, to strengthening the Avraham Avinu that is in each and every one of us, through sensitivity and care for each and every Jew. And as a result may we be granted a year of peace and unity, one which will herald the arrival of the Mashiach, swiftly, in our days.
Rabbi Yosef Friedman
Rabbi Friedman is the rabbi of Congregation Bnai Israel in Norfolk,VA.
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