From Where I Stand

By Rabbi Yossy Goldman

ואברהם שב למקומו

And Avraham went back to his place.

–Bereishis 18:33

 

Is it a sin to argue with G‑d? Is it sacrilegious to question the Divine? Well, Avraham did it. Not for himself, but on behalf of the people of Sodom, whom G‑d had decided to destroy because of their wickedness. Avraham was the paragon of chesed, the personification of kindness and compassion. He grappled with the Al‑mighty, attempting to negotiate a stay of execution for the inhabitants of the notorious cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” he asks G‑d. “Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?”

“If there are 50 righteous men, will you spare them? 45? 40? 30? 20? 10?” In the end, Avraham cannot find even a minyan of righteous men in the cities and he gives up. And the verse reads, “V’Avraham shav limkomo”–“and Avraham went back to his place.” Having failed in his valiant attempt at salvation, he acknowledges defeat and retreats to his corner.

But there is also an alternative interpretation to those last words. “And Avraham went back to his place” can also be understood to mean that he went back to his ways, to his custom. And what custom is that? To defend the underdog, to look out for the needy and to help those in trouble, even if they are not the most righteous of people. Avraham refused to become disillusioned in defeat. He went right back to his ways, even though this particular attempt did not meet with success. He may have lost this particular battle, but he was still in the war.

What happens when we lose? We hurt, we sulk, and we give up. It didn’t work, it’s no use.All my efforts were in vain.It’s futile, why bother?Just throw in the towel.

Not Avraham. Avraham stuck to his principles. He may have experienced a setback, but he would still champion the cause of justice. He would still speak out for those in danger. And he would still take his case to the highest authority in the universe, G‑d Al‑mighty Himself.

Avraham teaches us not to lose faith, not to deviate from our chosen path or our sincerely held convictions. If we believe it is the right thing to do, then it is right, even if there is no reward in sight. If it is right, then stick to it, no matter the outcome.

One of my favorite cartoon characters is good old Charlie Brown in Peanuts. And one strip that sticks in my memory is where there is a storm raging outside and Charlie Brown is determined to go out to fly his kite. His friends tell him he must be crazy to attempt flying a kite in this weather, it’ll be destroyed by the wind in no time. But in the last frame we see Charlie, resolutely marching out the door, his kite firmly tucked under his arm, and the caption reads, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

Do we believe in our principles of faith because of expediency? Are we virtuous because we believe it is the way to the good life? Are we looking for “brownie points”–are we waiting for the big payoff for our good behavior? What happens when we don’t see it? Do we become frustrated, disillusioned, and angry at G‑d?

Some people become religious for the wrong reasons. They are looking for some magical solution to their problems in life. And when the problems don’t disappear as quickly or as miraculously as they expected, they give up their religious lifestyle. It didn’t work.I’m outta here.

Virtue is its own reward. Sleeping better at night because our conscience is clear is also part of the deal. Or, in the words of the Sages, “the reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself.”

Our founding father reminds us that a Jew’s gotta do what a Jew’s gotta do, regardless of the outcome. Whether we see the fruits of our labors or not, if it’s the right thing to do, then carry on doing it.

May we all be true children of Avraham.

Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.

 

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