THE UPRIGHT WAY
Abraham is the pioneer of Judaism. He challenged a world of idolatry, proclaiming the belief in one G-d. According to the midrash, he was thrown into a fiery furnace for his beliefs and was miraculously saved.
Yet, for all of Abraham’s repudiation of idolatry, it doesn’t make him less sensitive to idolaters as human beings. In last week’s portion, when he heard that his nephew, Lot had been captured, he undertook a mission to rescue not only his nephew but the others, such as the king of Sodom and his people. Abraham knew what they were like. He abhorred their values. Yet, he didn’t hesitate to risk his life to save them.
In this week’s parsha, we find Abraham welcoming his three guests. His immediate thought is that they are idolaters who worship desert dust. For that reason, he asks them to wash their feet before entering his tent. But, despite his assumption that he was welcoming individuals with whom he fundamentally disagreed on the most basic of beliefs, he still offers them a sumptuous feast.
When he is told by G-d that Sodom and the other cities of the plain will be destroyed because of their wickedness, he engages in debate with G-d to negotiate their rescue. Although he was spiritually tortured and morally repulsed by the behavior of the Sodomites, he doesn’t celebrate when he hears that they are going to be destroyed. He argues with G-d that they should be spared.
Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (d. 1893), head of the famous Yeshiva in Volozhin, explains, in the introduction to his commentary on Bereishit, that this quality is what defines the Patriarchs. They are known as Yesharim – Men of Uprightness. They saw the image of G-d in every human being, irrespective of how much they may have disapproved of their conduct. Rabbi Berlin laments the fact that at the close of the second Temple period, many Jews were Tzaddikim, they were righteous in their observance of the commandments between themselves and G-d. However, they were not Yesharim, upright in their relations with their fellow human beings.
This is surely a message we need to heed in our time as well. We may be at a time of political turmoil with profound disagreements as to the future direction of this country. However, this never justifies personal denigration. It is profoundly sad that some women MPs are not standing for re-election simply as a result of the personal attacks they have been subjected to online. Yashar, Upright, is the right way to go.