אליהו בלום

Rabbi Eli Blum
Former Rosh Kollel, Cleveland (2007)


This week’s parsha contains Avraham’s noteworthy advocacy on behalf of the people of Sodom. Yet, the fact that HaKadosh Baruch Hu “confided” in Avraham is even more remarkable:

“And Hashem said, ‘Shall I conceal from Avraham what I am doing? And Avraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the world will be blessed through him. For I have known him because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of Hashem to perform charity and justice, in order that Hashem bring upon Avraham that which He spoke concerning him.’” (Breishit 18:17-19)

What do Avraham’s future as “a great and mighty nation” and his righteousness have to do with Hashem’s decision to include Avraham in the decision to destroy Sodom and Amorrah? Rashi (Breishit 18:17-18) addresses this issue:

“What I am doing – In Sodom. It would be improper for Me to do this thing without his knowledge. I gave him this land, and these five cities are his, as it says, ‘the border of the Canaanite was from Sidon…, as you come to Sodom and Amorrah, etc.’ (Breishit 10:19) I called him Avraham, the father of many nations. Can I destroy the sons without informing the father, who loves Me?

“And Avraham will surely become – [According to] a Midrash Aggadah, ’The mention of a righteous man is for a blessing.’ (Mishlei 10:7) Since He mentioned him, He blessed him. Its simple meaning is: Shall I conceal from him, when He is so cherished to Me as to become a great nation and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him?”

In other words, Hashem includes Avraham because of his responsibility to all the nations whose father he is.

What does the future have to do with Avraham’s greatness? We can approach this in one of two ways:

  1. There is no connection. Since He mentioned him, He blessed him.
  2. The fact that he is the father of many nations is directly connected to the future. After all, Avraham was selected for his mission and assignment due to his unique qualities. (See the Maharal in “Netzach Yisrael” 11.) One of those traits – the incredible responsibility which he displayed towards those around him – was the reason that he was called Avraham: “av hamon goyim” (the father of many nations).

In fact, Avraham’s treatment of his guests is evidence of his superlative compassion and conscientiousness. The Midrash (Breishit Rabbah 49:4) describes a meal at Avraham’s home:

“For I have known him because he commands – R’ Azariya in the name of R”Y: At first, charity and in the end, justice. How? Avraham would receive all the passersby. When they would eat and drink, he said to them, ‘Bless.’ They said to him, ‘What should we say?’ He said to them, ‘Say: “Bless is the God of the Universe of Whose we have eaten.”’ If [the guest] would accept and bless, [Avraham] would feed them and give drinks and [the guest] would go. But if [the guest] would not accept and bless, [Avraham] would say to him, ‘Pay me for the cost of the meal.’… He would say, ‘Blessed is the God of the Universe of Whose we have eaten.’ That is what is written, at first, charity and in the end, justice…”

In other words, he would pressure and solicit them to recognize the Creator’s benevolence and to bless Him in return. Also, the Midrash ties this idea into the aforementioned pasuk: “For I have known him because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of Hashem to perform charity and justice…”

By encouraging everyone to mention Hashem, Avraham displays his conscientiousness and his understanding of his role in Hashem’s world. Avraham recognizes that his task is hafatzat Shem Hashem (spreading Hashem’s Name throughout the world) and assembling humanity tachat Kanfei HaShechinah (under the Divine Presence).

We can learn from Avraham about our own obligations of hafatzat Shem Hashem and making Hashem’s Name beloved among mankind. However, today’s sensibilities are different, and therefore, the issue demands greater care and sensitivity. Furthermore, many times, it is best to remain silent than to say something which will be ignored. Yet, in other cases, candor and nerve are the optimal tools to bring others closer, based on the truth embedded in their souls.

All this brings us to an important halachic question. May we invite guests, when we know that they won’t recite the brachot(blessings), and pressuring them won’t help? Wouldn’t doing so constitute a violation of “lifnei iver lo titen michshol” (literally, placing a stumbling block before a blind man)? Or does kiruv (outreach) trump that consideration?

The Gemara (BT Chulin 107b) states:

“Come, learn what R’ Zira said in the name of Rav: ‘A person should not place a slice of bread in the mouth of a shamash, unless he knows that he washed his hands (natal yadav).’”

Similarly, the Rambam (Hilchot Brachot 6:19) rules:

“One may not feed someone who did not wash his hands, even if he puts [the food directly] into his mouth, and one may not disparage netilat yadayim…”

The Rif (Brachot 42a) cites R’ Yonah:

“Some learn from here that it is not appropriate to give to eat, unless it is to one who knows to recite the blessing over it. And it would seem that since he intends to do a mitzvah, because he is giving as part of tzedakah¸ it is permitted.”

In other words, R’ Yonah distinguishes between charitable giving – when one should not be pedantic about checking – and giving to a “casual” guest – in which case, one should be careful, as with the shamash.

However, the Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 169) disagrees with R’ Yonah:

“And his words are not pleasing since giving to the shamash is also a mitzvah, and even here he should not give unless he knows that he washed his hands.”

Moreover, the Beit Yosef (Shulchan Aruch 169:2) continues:

“One should only give to eat to someone who will surely recite the brachah.”

Seemingly, the Rama (ibid) rules in favor of R’ Yonah:

“And some are lenient if he gives to a poor person, as part of charity.”

But the Magen Avraham observes that, even according to the Rama, if the donor is certain that the recipient will not make a brachah, the donor is forbidden to provide food. The Mishneh Brurah concurs.

Nevertheless, in a groundbreaking ruling (Minchat Shlomo I 35), HaGaon Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l states:

“Offering food and drink to one who he knows will not make a brachah: And here, since every person must assess his paths and direct his actions lishem shamayim, it occurred to me, that one who hosts an important guest, who is not shomer Torah u’mitzvah, but he still has love for bnei Torah and he also supports Torah institutions etc., if the host will not treat him with the accepted politeness to honor him with food and drink – since mitzad hadin he may only provide food to one who he knows will wash his hands and recite the brachot (as is clarified in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 169:2) – and similarly, even if he respectfully asks him to wash his hands and recite the brachah, it will seem like an affront to his honor and an insult, and will also make him considerably irritated. And it is possible that because of this matter, he will be drawn away,chas vishalom, even more from the Torah. And he will also be brought to anger and hatred for all those who walk in the way of the Torah. For important men like this, I think that it is truly proper to honor him with food and drink, and not to be concerned about the prohibition of ‘lifnei iver lo titen michshol.’ Because even though we do not tell a person to carry out an issura zuta (a minor prohibition) in order to save others from [violating] an issura rabah (a major prohibition), and it is unquestionably forbidden to separate trumot u’maasrot (tithes) on Shabbat in order to thereby save others from the severe prohibition of tevel (produce which has not been tithed), nevertheless, in this regard, since the entire prohibition of offering food is one of netinat michshol (placing a stumbling block), and since neglecting to offer food will lead to the guest stumbling [by violating] an even greater prohibition, there is no transgression at all. Because, in this case, there is no netinat michshol; in fact, the opposite. In this case, there is avoiding a very large michshol – by substituting it, with a kum v’aseh (roughly, an active step), with a smaller michshol… And even though HaRav Akiva Eiger (Yoreh De’ah 181:66) also wrote about this in reference to a woman who rounds off a man’s payot, nevertheless, he used the term ‘perhaps’. Here, it is different, because by neglecting to serve him, he himself is considered to be the michshol… And he should do so, even though it is a kum v’aseh…”

Thus, kiruv serves as the basis for this innovative – and astounding – halachic delineation of lifnei iver’s scope. We should note that not everyone concurs, and in fact, both the Chazon Ish (ibid) and HaGaon Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igrot Moshe I 99) appear to rule otherwise. Yet, clearly, we have here a novel approach to leniency, at least with respect to rabbinic laws.

In conclusion, kiruv and bringing others tachat Kanfei HaShechinah are dependent on a complex reality, which changes from person to person and from era to era. During Avraham’s time, insisting and demanding was perhaps the way to go. But presumably, in our time, kiruv is best accomplished by reticence and silence. In any event, the most important element has always been tocho ratzuf ahavah (being filled with love).