Avraham Avinu remains a shining example to us of righteous character and action. Among his many excellent traits found in the Torah, the one he is most famous for is chessed, acts of kindness, specifically in the form of inviting guests to his house. Interestingly enough, there is only one instance where the Torah gives an actual example of this, in this week’s parsha. When the angels come to Avraham’s house, the level of care Avraham and his family provide for his guests is fabulous.
Immediately after this story, we are given a sharp contrast, when we are confronted with the city of Sodom. The laws of Sodom prohibited acts of giving of any kind. While there were many other types of wickedness that contributed to their culture, the laws against kindness were the foundation and became the basis for the entire city being destroyed; which we learn about immediately after the angels leave Avraham’s house. While the juxtaposition of these two stories can be explained in a simple manner, a little exploration reveals an amazing idea.
As the angels head towards destroying the city, Hashem feels obligated to share the news of Sodom with Avraham. “וַֽיהֹוָ֖ה אָמָ֑ר הַֽמֲכַסֶּ֤ה אֲנִי֙ מֵֽאַבְרָהָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֥י עֹשֶֽׂה” “And Hashem said, ‘Shall I conceal from Avraham what I do” (Bereishis 18:17). He then explains that the actions of Sodom have reached the point where destruction is warranted. Avraham takes this as an opportunity to speak up and make sure that all alternatives have been considered before the city and all its people perish. He asks if there are fifty, forty-five, all the way down to ten righteous people in the city; he demands justice and begs for mercy if there are at least some righteous people who could provide merit for the city, and possibly return them to the side of good. After being assured that these considerations had been taken, Avraham leaves Hashem confident that both of them had done their best.
Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky points out the significance of Avraham’s protest for Sodom is the reason for the juxtaposition of these stories. Every person has something which is more important to them than to the average person. The personal association with this idea gives you a stronger than typical connection with it, to the point that if you see someone not adhering to this concept, it offends you. It’s no different when it comes to mitzvos. If there is a particular mitzvah which you feel especially connected to, seeing that mitzvah ignored can burn you up inside. Even though the actions of a rasha can offend any God-fearing Jew, this specific action will bother you even more.
With this point, we gain a better appreciation for the actions of Avraham. His entire life’s work was chessed, doing anything he could for every random person he happened to meet. A few miles away was the city of Sodom, a community dedicated to the exact opposite values; doing their best to eradicate kindness from within, going so far as to brutally punish those who defied this decree. And when Hashem comes to him and tells him the city is to be destroyed, his first reaction is to try and save them! While a normal person would be happy to see such evil eradicated, all the more so when that evil goes against the most important thing in the world to him, Avraham rises above and pleads for justice and mercy.
This is just another example of the greatness of our forefather, Avraham. His tendency towards kindness was so strong that he was willing to go all out to save the very people who would ignore and denigrate his principles. As we journey through Sefer Bereishis and learn about our ancestors, this story gives us another bit of inspiration to attempt to emulate them.
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