Montreal Kollel 2006
In our parasha we are informed of the decree Hashem issued against Sedom and Amora, to destroy them by a heavenly fire on account of their sinful conduct. Hashem informs Avraham that the people of Sedom are very sinful and are therefore deserving of destruction. Yet, Avraham, for his part, questions Hashem’s decision, asking, “Will you even eliminate the righteous along with the wicked?” For there might be fifty righteous people living in the city, to whom Hashem pays no attention… Avraham proceeds to challenge and to protest, “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the evil, that the righteous should be like the evil; far be it from You! Will the Judge over the entire earth not act justly?!” Hashem, for His part, tries to defend Himself, as it were, before His beloved Avraham, and guarantees, “If I find in Sedom fifty righteous people within the city, then I will spare the entire place for their sake.” But Avraham’s mind is still not put to rest, and his daring disputation with God continues for five more rounds until Hashem finally promises Avraham that even if there are but ten righteous men in the city, their merit will save the city.
How could Avraham speak so brazenly to Hashem and challenge the justness of His decisions? Acknowledging Hashem as the source of morals and justness, could Avraham consider that He would act unjustly? And why was it so critical for Avraham to understand God’s decisions in the first place? Why couldn’t he simply go on living without knowing the motives and reasons behind Hashem’s actions, and accept his lack of knowledge and limited understanding of that which is beyond his reach – which are inherent qualities of his human essence? In summary, how could this ritual repeat itself five times without Avraham foregoing on his stance and conceding to the justness of Hashem’s decision?
The answer, I believe, emerges from the following approach. Avraham’s attempt to understand the reasons and rationale behind Hashem’s actions stems not merely from his curiosity and wonder regarding that which is concealed from him, but rather involves something far more significant. The essence of the Torah is about following Hashem’s example and learning from His courses of action, as the Midrash comments, “‘This is My God, and I shall emulate Him’ – just as He is compassionate, so shall you be compassionate; just as He is gracious, so shall you be gracious.” The Almighty thus constitutes by His very essence a personal example and supreme ideal for us to all follow. Of course, we know Hashem only through His actions in this world, and thus only through them can we learn about His qualities that we must emulate. Hashem’s goodness, His compassion and kindness – these in effect form the framework of a person’s life and the clear direction towards which one must strive during his lifetime.
It goes without saying that the commentaries, with their sharp perception, sense that Avraham commits no wrong in this episode, and his questioning of Hashem even earns the support of the Midrash. This explanation, according to which the Almighty’s justness is beyond challenge, and was eternalized in man’s consciousness and in human life, is of particularly critical importance to the father of the nation, who represents the cornerstone in the education of the nation that will descend from him. This nation, charged with observing the mitzvot with the clear intention of imposing the path of God onto the world, must keep within its consciousness the concept of divine goodness, for without it, its conduct will have no moral advantage over any other nation’s, and it will remain confused and without motivation to act in the name of its God. By “lowering” Himself and addressing the “simple” human being and his doubts, as illustrated in our parasha, we see yet another aspect of Hashem’s kindness. May it be His will that we all follow His ways truthfully, and that on this account He will deal kindly with us.