By Rabbi Naftoly Bier
In פרק יח:יז, Chapter 18:17, the Torah states “וה’ אמר המכסה אני מאברהם אשר אני עושה” “And Hashem said ‘Shall I conceal from Avraham what I intend to do?’” Rashi explains, is it possible that I will destroy Sodom without his knowledge? I (Hashem) gave him this land, and he also was titled (by Me) as the ‘father of the people’. Can it be possible to destroy Sodom and not notify him that his ‘children’ will die? The חתם סופר adds that Avraham Avinu was not able to receive a prophecy due to his constant interaction with people, which precludes attaining a level of prophecy. Hashem therefore is teaching why he did receive this prophecy- for he selflessly dedicated his life to enable others to advance spiritually; if so, I- Hashem- must inform him of what I plan to do to Sodom.
In verse 23, it states: “And Avrohom came forward and said, 1) “Will You stamp out the righteous along with the wicked?”, 2) “Will You not spare the cities if there are ten righteous men in the midst of the cities?”, 3) “It would be sacrilege to do such a thing- to bring death to all. Shall You not do justice?”
Rashi explains that Avraham Avinu came to beseech Hashem with three different ‘arguments’: ‘demanding justice, asking for mercy, and to beseech Hashem for kindness.’
The Maharal explains that this corresponds to three ‘names’ of Hashem: אלוקים, the name that denotes judgment, קל, the name that connotes infinite kindness, and יקוק, which represents mercy.
How is it possible that Avraham Avinu could ‘fight’ with Hashem? It would seem to be a blatant desecration to argue with Hashem! Also, what are the three different ‘styles’ of prayer that he employed? What is also perplexing is, why would he put himself at odds with Hashem’s desire; wasn’t Avraham’s lifetime mission of selflessly benefitting others detested, vilified, and prohibited by Sodom, to the extent that one was punishable by death if they performed a Chessed?
The three categories of תפילה, prayer are the following as explained by HaRav Dessler זצ”ל:
- A person requests that Hashem provide one’s needs, or another’s, for one unequivocally recognizes that Hashem can fulfill all of one’s entreaties and supplications. Due to this, Hashem will comply, for it will be an impetus to increase one’s awareness of Hashem’s care, and in turn, engender a greater respect for Him. This is categorized as תפילה, רחמים.
- One beseeches Hashem for forgiveness of one’s sins and mistakes. One who truly senses that his relationship with Hashem is diminished due to his style of living being at odds with what Hashem desires. When, due to this feeling, one begs Hashem to extend His loving benefactions once again in order to serve Hashem properly, then He will ‘comply’ due to His enabling one to be spiritually successful. This was Avraham’s request; if there are fifty righteous people, they will influence the inhabitants of Sodom to change their behavior. חסד.
It is important to note the language “בתוך העיר” “fifty righteous in the midst of the city”. It would seem superfluous to say ‘in the midst’, where else are they? Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch teaches that only if these צדיקים are involved with the wicked people, totally dedicating themselves to their spiritual metamorphosis, can they ‘save’ the city. On the contrary, if they argue that these people are depraved and decadent, and therefore hopeless, they will be punished for their attitude!
- One with complete integrity and sincerity feels that their perspicuous crystal-clear recognition of Hashem’s boundless kindness is compromised by a specific action. That in turn can cause a slight loss of complete trust and honor of Him and a feeling that one’s absolute dedication to Him is slightly compromised. For a person who is truly an exemplar of dedication to Hashem, it is possible that Hashem will remove any stumbling block to one’s unambiguous devotion and piety. The idea of דין, judgment is that one can effect a change in Hashem’s plan due to one’s indefectible emulation and adherence to Hashem’s instructions. Avraham Avinu had the consummate negation of self regarding Hashem’s actions, but he entreated and begged Hashem that he shouldn’t be tested by Sodom being destroyed.
Avraham Avinu, with his keen, selfless understanding of the world’s population at that time, was terribly agitated that if Sodom were destroyed, it would cause a desecration of Hashem, חילול השם. Due to his unceasing, genuine, and persistent love and appreciation of Hashem’s boundless gifts, he couldn’t tolerate a degradation of respect for Hashem. Regarding the עקדה, Hashem’s wish that he bring his son יצחק, Isaac as a sacrifice; he never argued; for if it was relevant to him personally, he was worried that bias would play a role in any arguments
Avraham Avinu established for Klal Yisrael, the paradigm of חסד, chessed, for eternity. Despite being ninety-nine years old and infirm due to his ברית מילה, circumcision, he anxiously awaits a wayfarer, to lavish him with food and drink, even an idol worshipper. He prayed for the survival of Sodom. Every kind deed he did became part and parcel of our genetic makeup.
In these trying, turbulent times, we feel drawn to our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel and worldwide. This is a result of our נשמה being ingrained with the chessed of Avraham. It is imperative that everyone, to one’s capacity, dedicate time to learn Torah, pray, and give tzedakah- to actualize our feelings, by selflessly dedicating ourselves to absorbing their pain, and our days and nights to lovingly plead with Hashem to enable us to visualize and be the recipients of his adoration of Klal Yisrael.
The Torah teaches in chapter 18: 6, “Avraham hastened to… Sarah and said, ‘Hurry… knead the dough and make cakes.’” In the end, he never brings it out, why? Chazal teach us that Sarah had become a נידה, Niddah (had her menstrual cycle), and therefore they wouldn’t eat it due to their strict rule of only eating חולין בטהרה. But what does that have to do with their guests who were idol worshippers? Rabbeinu Bachaye offers a novel approach. Since they would not eat it, they did not want to offer it to their guests. Again, why not? We are being taught a profound principle. If one offers someone something that they wouldn’t eat, invariably it will detract from fully respecting them, for they will view the other as being ‘less spiritual’ than them. To truly, fully care for another, necessitates that one view everyone as important and valuable as another. Avraham Avinu and Sarah our matriarch teach us that respect for all is the fundamental underpinning of true chessed, kindness to all. When one interacts with others in this manner, Hashem bestows his Chessed on that person.
In the merit of emulating Avraham, may we merit Hashem’s true love and mercy.