In this week’s parsha, we get an interest gift: a window into what Gd values. Last week we met Abraham as Gd called out to him to leave evertything and begin a new path. We don’t know much about Abraham, yet are impressed by his willingness and eagerness to fulfill Gd’s instructions, even when it is not clear what is requested of him.
Teaching Compassionate Righteousness to the Next Generation
At the end of this week’s parsha, Vayera, will be the ultimate test of Abraham in the episode of the Binding of Isaac. OK. So we get it–Abraham does what Gd asks him to. But is that all? Is there anything about him or how he treats others that helps is understand more about his nature?
Parshat Vayera opens with the story of Abraham running to serve the three angels–dressed as desert wayfarers–while still healing from his recent circumcision. He welcomes them into his tent and goes to great lengths to care for them. Perhaps this is the unique attribute of Abraham? He goes out of his way to take care of others and to invite the needy into his own home?
The story continues, and at the beginning of the episode which ends in the destruction of Sodom and Gemorah, we get our gift. The Bible says:
And Gd said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I do? And Abraham will be a great and mighty nation and all the nations of the world will be blessed through him. For I have cherished him, because he commands his children and his houselhold after him that they keep the way of Gd, practicing compassionate righteousness, in order that Gd may bring upon Abraham all the Gd promised him.(Genesis 18:17-19)
The fact that he teaches to do Gd’s will is not surprising, we already learned that. What is interesting is that 1) the focus on teaching his children, and 2) “Compassionate Righteousness. These are what are unique to Abraham, and cause for Gd to want to have a special relationship with him.
First of all, this is the first example of teaching through the generations. The value of education and a parent guiding a child to navigate the world takes a central point in the characterization of what is uniquely special to Abraham.
The second is the content of what Abraham teaches his children: compassionate righteousness (tzedeka u’mishpat). What could this mean? Tzedaka is sometimes translated in English as ‘Charity’–which does the concept a terrible disservice as it implies that one can be generous and give when they ‘feel like it’. The word’s root is actually connected to justice. These two concepts of charity and justice are essentially diametrically opposed, yet they dwell together in this one Hebrew word. Furthermore, here this word is connected to mishpat (judgment) which emphasizes that ones enactment of justice must be done with the compassion that ‘tzedaka’ implies. It does not mean to be a pushover and to always be overly generous. There is need for limits and judgment, but it must be done with a compassionate sense of charity and generousity.
This is what makes Abraham unique. He not only lives by these principles, but he teaches them to his children and therefore increases them in the world.
Gd chooses Abraham and builds a relationship with him based on this quality.
This is a message that we hold very dear in Nesiya, and especially at this moment in history, try to teach to our students so that it will increase in the world!