4 Kislev 5767
One Integrated Father for Two Families
We learn quite a bit but seemingly not enough about Avraham’s illustrious life through the various episodes he was involved in. In a couple of places the Torah makes a direct statement about his character and achievements. A famous pasuk in Parashat Vayeira states that he taught his descendants and household to "keep the way of Hashem to do charity and justice" (Bereishit 18:19). Another is in our parasha, Toldot, where Yitzchak was told that he would be blessed to become a great and blessed nation "because Avraham followed My voice, and he observed My observances, commandments, statutes, and teachings" (ibid. 26:5). Let us examine the difference between these two sets of praises of our first patriarch.
The former description of Avraham comes in the context of Hashem’s decision to allow Avraham to intercede on behalf of the people of S’dom. The latter is Hashem’s explanation of the merit through which the role of the Chosen Nation would be bestowed upon Avraham’s offspring. Indeed, Avraham had a dual role. He was the founder of a nation dedicated to the service of Hashem on the highest level. He was also an "av hamon goyim" (the father of a multitude of nations), who taught belief in G-d and basic morality to any nation or person who was willing to listen.
If one views the content of the praises he will see that each is appropriate for its context. It was Avraham the world leader who was allowed to intercede on behalf of S’dom. He had a legacy as a man who taught charity and justice so that his followers could follow the way of Hashem. These were two attributes that S’dom had not internalized, to speak mildly. Yet, Avraham was given the opportunity to try to convince Hashem that the situation was salvageable, which it was not.
However, these attributes were not the basis for the nation that Avraham would found. The Chosen Nation would have to accept and fulfill a full regimen of strict observances (ibid.). Avraham led the way in this regard, as Chazal (Kiddushin 82a) learned from this pasuk that he observed all the Torah’s intricate laws before they were given. This accomplished two things. First, it gave Avraham merit, which made him deserve the nation. Second, it inculcated in his offspring a proclivity toward success in this demanding area, which came in good stead at Sinai and beyond.
We must remember that the two elements of Avraham’s legacy are incorporated in one person. The same person who followed his Maker by loving charity and justice was also disciplined enough to keep the myriad intricacies of halacha. Similarly, vice versa is true. In fact, we could point to the order of the occurrences in the Torah and apply the rule of "derech eretz kadma laTorah" (a proper approach toward people is a prerequisite to excellence in Torah). May the children of Avraham not settle for excellence in humanism or religiosity but strive for excellence in both and learn to incorporate them harmoniously as people and a nation.
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