Parshas Vayeira — The Gift of Giving

Although the Almighty designed the world as a place for every man to earn his eternal reward through the proper application of his own free will, G-d is only willing to tolerate man’s wickedness up to a point before He intervenes.  And so, when the moral corruption of the city of Sodom surpassed the bounds of tolerability, G-d decreed the city’s destruction in a violent overthrow of fire and brimstone.

Before acting, however, the Almighty engages in a curious discussion with His heavenly hosts.  “Shall I conceal from Abraham what I intend to do?”  G-d asks.  “For Avrohom will become a great and mighty nation, and through him all the nations of the world will be blessed.  Indeed, I have made Myself known to him, so that he will command his children and his household after him, that they will guard the way of HaShem, doing charity and justice, in order that HaShem will bring upon Avrohom everything He has promised” (Bereishis 18:17-19).

The beginning and the end of G-d’s reflection seem to have no connection.  What does Avrohom’s future as a great nation have to do with the need to inform him of G-d’s iminent actions?  Furthermore, G-d’s description of Avrohom’s righteousness seems to imply that Avrohom’s instruction of his household is motivated by his own desire to receive the reward G-d had promised him.  If so, what merit is there in that?

Let me offer an answer to the second question first.  And, in the style of Jewish discourse, let me answer the question with a question:

What is it that we can give to G-d?  Since His is infinite and eternal, without either need or want, He certainly does not need our service or our obediance.  He gains nothing through our compliance with His will.  Rather, the Almighty desires that we keep His laws as the means of earning our eternal reward.  If so, the one thing we can give to G-d is the opportunity to give us the reward He wants us to have by earning it through the observance of His commandments. 

This is the true motivation of our patriarch Avrohom:  to keep G-d’s laws not to receive G-d’s reward for his own benefit, but as an act of giving, thereby providing the Almighty with the only thing He truly desires — the oppotunity to bestow the greatest possible blessing upon the world and all mankind. 

Moreover, Avrohom was not satisfied to keep the commandments himself, nor even to shape the values of the world around him.  Rather, Avrohom’s ultimate mission was to instill the values of G-dliness in his children by teaching them to guard the way of HaShem, doing charity and justice, so that an awareness of the Divine Will would never again be lost to the world as it was after the days of Adam and Noah.

How does this explain why HaShem could not conceal His plans from Avrohom?  In general, we understand that G-d conceals His presence to allow us free will in choosing good over evil.  In such a world, wickedness may sometimes thrive and flourish, compelling man to seek out G-d’s justice.  But when destruction rains down from the sky, when G-d Himself wreaks vengeance that makes no distinction between the wicked and righteous, how then can mankind believe in the absolute justice of the Almighty?

For Avrohom to succeed in teaching G-d’s justice, he himself must fully understand G-d’s justice.  And if the destruction of Sodom will appear to be less than just, then G-d must reveal His plan to Avrohom so that Avrohom can discern the justice inherent in the act.

Possessed of an unassailable understanding of Divine Justice, Avrohom could succeesfully transmit the G-dly virtues of charity and justice to his descendants, making it possible for them to grow into a great nation through which all the nations of the world would be blessed.  In this way, the purpose of creation would be achieved as all mankind would have the opportunity to earn the reward that G-d wants all human beings to receive.

King Solomon says:  The one who hates gifts will live.  He does not instruct us to refuse gifts, but to hate them.  For indeed, if no one accepted gifts, than no one would be able to give.  Rather, by seeing gifts not as gifts but as opportunities to allow others to give, we will always be givers instead of takers, living and modeling the virtues of charity and kindness, and spreading G-d’s blessing throughout the world.

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