OU Torah Insights ProjectParashat Vayeira
In this parshah, G-d determines that the city of Sodom must be destroyed. But first G-d decides to inform Avraham of His decision. Why does G-d need to tell this to Avraham? Why does He, so to speak, "clear it" first with Avraham?
Rashi, quoting the Midrash Tanchumah, explains G-ds reasoning: "I called Avraham Av hamon goyim - the father of many nations. How can I destroy the children without first telling their father?"
This powerful and moving midrash reveals to us the role assigned to Avraham. G-d changes his name from Avram to Avraham to better define who he is and what his responsibilities are. He is "Av hamon goyim" - not just the father of the Jewish people, but the father of many nations.
G-d tells Avraham about the plight of Sodom because Avrahams responsibility is not only to his own people, but to all people.
Avrahams commitment to this mandate is evident at the end of Parshas Vayeira. Avraham is commanded by G-d to bring his son to an undisclosed place and offer him as a sacrifice.
The Torah relates that Avraham and Yitzchak are accompanied by two young men on their journey. Once the place of the Akeidah comes into Avrahams view,
he tells the young men to stay behind, and he and Yitzchak continue on. The experience of the Akeidah was to be an exclusive encounter with G-d that only Avraham and Yitzchak could share. The young men who had accompanied Avraham and Yitzchak would not share the destiny of the Jewish people forged at the Akeidah.
Yet, the Torah records that "Avraham returned to the young men and they got up (vayakumu) and walked together to Beer Sheva." Of course Avraham went home after the Akeidah. Why does the Torah need to record this? Obviously, there must be some special significance to this pasuk.
Rav Motti Alon suggests another translation for this term, "vayakumu": "and he lifted them up." That pasuk would then be read, "And Avraham returned to the young men and he lifted them up, and they walked together."
Avrahams experience at the Akeidah was a pivotal moment in history. Avraham demonstrates his total dedication to G-d, and he is promised that his descendants will be blessed and will become a great nation. Avraham then returns from this encounter to the young men he left behind. He shares his experience with them. Avraham "lifts them up." He inspires them.
Though only Avraham and Yitzchak could experience the Akeidah, they could nonetheless convey the inspiration to those who were not present. Avraham fulfills his responsibility by reaching out beyond himself, Rav Alon explains. In this way he fulfills his mission as "Av hamon goyim."
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt"l, emphasizes this aspect of Avrahams mission. He asks why our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried along with Adam and Chavah in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. It would seem more appropriate for them to have a separate burial place befitting their role as the forebears of the Jewish people.
This placement, the Rav, zt"l, suggests, teaches that although the Jew has a unique history and a unique destiny, the Jew must be intimately connected and involved with the history and destiny of all humankind. Our role and mission as Jews goes beyond concern for our own people. The first Jews, Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu, accepted the responsibility to be teachers for all people.
This mission of Avraham and Sarah is the goal we declare three times each day in the prayer of "Aleinu," when we state our commitment "lesakein olam beMalchut Shakai - to repair the world in the Kingdom of G-d."
Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider
Rabbi Goldscheider is rabbi of Etz Chaim Synagogue in Jacksonville, FL.