Rabbi Menachem Siderson: About this week’s Parsha

(Nov. 3, 2017) – Good Shabbos!

This week’s Parsha tells us about Avraham’s well-known debate with Hashem. Hashem had sent three angels disguised as men to Avraham’s tent in the beginning of the Parsha. Now, towards the middle, two of them continue to Sodom. One was sent to destroy Sodom and the surrounding four cities that were ingulfed in evil, and the other was going to save however much of Lot’s family he could.

Hashem did not feel that it was right to conceal this plan from Avraham, seeing as he was the future inheritor of the Land of Canaan. He therefore told him what was about to take place. Avraham famously stood up to defend the people of Sodom! He fought with Hashem, back and forth, trying to save the thousands of people from utter destruction. In the end though, Hashem explained to him why there really was no alternative. Avraham went home, and the destruction of Sodom took place.

What I want to point out today, is that during the discussion, Avraham made the following statement: “Behold now I have taken upon myself to speak to Hashem, even though I am but dust and ash” (Bereishis 18:27) This was a refrain of humility, an expression of Avraham’s realization that he was challenging the Omnipotent Hashem! One should assume that if Avraham was saying this, he truly felt it. Especial since he was talking to Hashem Himself! If so, it wasn’t just a throwaway line that he felt he needed to stick in to be official. Avraham really and truly meant that he felt inferior to Hashem in every conceivable way.

If so, asks Rav Reuven Feinstein in his Sefer Nahar Shalom, how could the conversation proceed? If Avraham was honestly acknowledging that Hashem was infinitely his superior in all facets, then how dare he challenge a decision that Hashem had made! Did he really think that perhaps he had thought of something that Hashem had not thought of?

Rav Reuven answers that Avraham was not standing up to Hashem because he felt that Hashem had made a mistake, and that it was Avraham’s place to correct Him. He didn’t feel that Hashem was “not fair” or “had no right” to act this way. Any of these ideas would be silly, since he believed in Hashem’s superiority. And if someone else had doubted Hashem’s plans, Avraham would have been the first to defend Hashem! Rather, he was questioning Hashem purely because he knew that Hashem wanted him to do so! He had to overcome his natural instinct to trust in Hashem completely, in order to question Hashem’s actions. This was what he was declaring: I know that I am dust and ash, and that I could never debate Hashem, but since Hashem wants me to, I will!

How did Avraham know that Hashem wanted him to discuss this? Perhaps from that very fact that Hashem revealed the plan to him. But more importantly, why did Hashem want him to argue this with him? If the conclusion was forgone, then what was the point of the argument?

I would like to suggest that Hashem was teaching Avraham a powerful lesson. Sometimes, you may encounter a person in distress, and you really can’t help them. However, that does not exempt you from wanting to help them. Avraham was in a situation where it was completely obvious that there was no saving grace for the people of Sodom. Hashem had decreed that they were to die, and that was final. Yet Avraham was told to try and save them. See what you can do. Not because there was any hope, but because Avraham had to learn that even when he couldn’t help, he had to wish that he could. He had to care about them.

May we all merit to truly want to help everyone we meet, and you never know … sometimes, when you think there is just no way to help this person, once you start really feeling that you want to help, and you really care about them, you’ll discover you have a lot more in you then you ever imagined.

Rabbi Menachem Siderson is proud to have been born and raised in Edmonton. When he was 16 he went to learn in the Yeshiva of Rav Reuven Feinstein in Staten Island New York. From there he moved on to Israel where he currently lives with his wife Nechama and their daughter Elisheva. He is currently a student in the Center for Kehillah Development. 

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