INSIGHT

5769 - #08

TEACHING

            It would seem that God had three reasons for why He decided to inform Avraham Avinu about His plans to destroy Sodom. One is that Avraham, through his descendents, will become a great and mighty nation through which all the nations of the world will be blessed.1 The second is that Avraham will command his children and household and they will follow God and do charity and justice.2 Third, God wanted to give Avraham the chance to intervene and, perhaps, through his prayers save Sodom.3 Each of these reasons sparks many questions. Fundamentally, one may want to ask why it would even be necessary for God to explain His desire to share this knowledge and/or His decision with Avraham. It would seem that our initial assumption would be that God would not share this type of information with Avraham, with a human being. God before the Flood informs Noach of its coming but that is only to direct Noach to build an Ark.4 We can understand God sharing information with human beings as a prelude to a command from God to human beings – but why does God share this information about Sodom with Avraham? Is this knowledge a necessary prelude to an action that should be undertaken? If so, what action? If not, if God’s intent is solely to share information, why?

            The third reason that the verse presents to explain why God wanted to share His plans with Avraham, in order to give Avraham the opportunity to pray or intervene on behalf of Sodom, would seem to the one that makes the most sense. God does not just share information with humanity unless there is some purpose. To cause Avraham to pray and try and save Sodom, would be such a purpose.5 Are the other reasons totally devoid of this consideration? Were they possibly solely expressions of affection, of God sharing Divine knowledge with Avraham so that Avraham can experience a bonding with God of such a special nature? Yet, can sharing information with Avraham regarding such a harsh edict truly be an expression of affection? What was it about Avraham’s descendents becoming a great nation by which the world would be blessed that made it appropriate and correct for God to share this information about the imminent destruction of Sodom with Avraham? Similarly, what was it about Avraham commanding his children and household to follow God and do charity and justice, and them following, that made God believe it appropriate to share this information with Avraham? This information must have some practical consequence.

            Someone asked me a most interesting question regarding God’s determination that Avraham should be singled out because he will command his children and household to follow God, furthermore that they will follow God. The evidence that surrounds this episode about Sodom would seem to imply that Avraham was really not that successful in this goal. In Sodom lived Lot who spent much time in the household of Avraham yet still left, choosing to live amongst the people of Sodom, the very people that God was now punishing for their lack of charity and justice.6 As to descendents, Avraham’s only child, at this time, was, Yishmael.7 Of course, we could interpret the verses as solely referring to Am Yisrael -- and indeed the reference to the nation in Bereishit 18:18 would seem to be specifically about Am Yisrael8 – yet, even in regard to Avraham’s lineage from Yitzchak, we encounter an Esav. Sadly, can we also say that every member of Am Yisrael followed God? God is praising Avraham in regard to his descendents, in regard to those who are around him, yet Avraham was not successful in developing righteousness in all that were around him, in all that were descended from him. Is the praise thus simply that Avraham  was successful at least to some extent? Perhaps that in itself is actually very praiseworthy? There, though, may actually be a more fundamental issue. Why would the behaviour of Avraham’s descendents or household even affect God’s view of Avraham? In the final analysis, isn’t each person really judged on their own merit? Why should God relate to Avraham differently because Avraham’s children will be righteous or not righteous? Should Avraham not be seen for who he was in himself, irrespective of the success of his teachings? What does it truly mean that God believed it appropriate to tell Avraham about His plans for Sodom because Avraham’s descendents will follow God and do charity and justice?

            A closer look at Bereishit 18:19 may actually indicate that the verse is specifically talking about Avraham, about his behaviour. Avraham, personally, does something that leads God to tell him about Sodom. Avraham orders his children and household to follow God’s ways. That in itself is not enough though. While a person is evaluated based upon his behaviour, the value of his/her behaviour has to consider the success of the effort. Yet, whether one is actually successful is often not fully the consequence of the person; it depends upon the other. Yet one cannot act in a vacuum; one must consider the other in his behaviour. The greatness of Avraham was that he approached others about God, attempting to bring God into the world. But it was not solely about his behaviour. He met with success indicating that he was aware of the other and when he acted it was in consideration of who the other was. That is the type of person you want to lead, to affect the world. That is the type of person God will choose to be involved in developing the world, furthering righteousness in the world. Bottom line, God told Avraham about Sodom for Avraham demonstrated that he could be instrumental in furthering God’s purpose for the world.

           
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


Footnotes

1 Bereishit 18:18. As Rashi explains, God was, figuratively, saying to Himself that since Avraham was so precious to Him, thus He will make Avraham into a great nation through which all the nations of the world will be blessed, He should also share this plan to destroy Sodom with Avraham

2 Bereishit 18:19. Rashi again explains this verse also as an expression of why God cherishes Avraham and thus why God should share this knowledge with him as an expression of this cherishment. A more straightforward way of understanding the verse may be that God wished to share this decision and action of Divine Justice with Avraham as our forefather was committed to spreading justice. Rashi, however, seems to reject such an interpretation.

3 See Ntziv, HaEmek Daver, Bereishit 18:19.

4 Bereishit 5:13,14.

5 Of course, we may still wonder about how such a prayer, even by Avraham Avinu, would be able to have changed this decree. In a similar vein, we may also wonder what Avraham was actually thinking as he questioned God’s justice. Did He actually think that He was going to come up with a reason, which God had not already considered, for God to have mercy on Sodom? These questions, though, are unfortunately beyond the parameters of this Insight.

6 See, T.B. Yoma 38b.

7 Of course, Yishmael is one of the most complex individuals in the Tanach. He seemed to experience periods of righteousness and times of a lack of righteousness. Yet, the nature of these verses would not seem to apply, in the very least, to the descendents of Yishmael.

8 See, for example, T.B. Yevamot 63a.

 (c) Nishma, 2008


 


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