Our forefather Avraham was the paragon of chesed, kindness. He was the first outreach worker, spreading word of One G-d. His tent was open on all sides. He, together with his wife Sarah, excelled in the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, hosting guests. Next week, we will read about how after his brit milah, he was bereft because there weren’t any visitors. G-d sent three angels, disguised as Bedouins. Despite recuperating from the circumcision, Avraham raced to greet them and insisted on personally serving them a multicourse meal. This is the Avraham that we emulate, when Jews extend themselves to care for others, Jewish or not, Israeli or Arab or Palestinian.
Yet, in this week’s parsha, Parashat Lech Lecha, there is another story of Avraham that I rarely stopped to consider, until this week, because tragically, it has become incredibly relevant.
Avraham leaves his homeland to journey to Canaan, today Israel. There, life is not easy. Among other challenges, Avraham goes to war against a cohort of four kings who are fighting for power and control. His nephew Lot, who lives in Sodom is taken captive. The Zohar, the primary text of Jewish mysticism, tells us the reason that Lot was held hostage. They really wanted Avraham because he influenced people to leave their practice of idolatry and believe in One God. His voice was the voice of conscience in the Middle East. By mistake they kidnapped Lot because he looked so much like Avraham.
Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508-1593) explains that Avraham understood that their hatred toward him would intensify if left unchecked. He was determined to do battle and to rescue his nephew. Even though his nature was one of kindness and compassion, he battled with skill and courage. The Akeidat Yitzchak (R’ Yitzhak Arama, (1420-1494) describes the care with which Avraham worked out his battle strategy. His actions were based on the premise that “help from heaven comes only to those who have first done everything humanly possible to succeed.” (Call of the Torah, Rabbi Munk). Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105) tells us that even at night he did not give up the pursuit. Although things became increasingly difficult, he split up his forces to follow the fugitives as they scattered in different directions. With help from Above, Avraham was victorious, and Lot was freed.
Our Sages explain that maaseh avot, siman l’banim: the events of the forefathers are a sign for the children. The Midrash Tanchuma (on Lech Lecha) teaches that “G-d engineered things such that everything that happened to Avraham would happen to his descendants.” Just as Avraham, the paragon of chesed, was forced to go to war to rescue hostages, so too his descendants throughout the ages would need to fight for their beliefs, fight for their lives, and even fight to free hostages.
Jewish mysticism teaches that there are three basic forces through which a person achieves their spiritual goals: chesed/kindness, gevurah/strength, and emet/truth. Rav Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1953) writes that Avraham’s primary attribute was chesed. “Through the power of loving kindness, a person turns his effort toward others and tries to the best of his ability, to make them happy and influence them for the good.” This is “the power of giving”.
Much like our forefather, we are a nation of givers. Jews are at the forefront of almost every cause, including those working for better lives for Palestinians. Yet just like Avraham, there are times when chesed/kindness must be put aside for gevurah/strength. Because as Avraham saw, hatred only intensifies if left unchecked. Our Sages tell us that this was #6 of the ten tests of Avraham. And the current war is certainly a test.
May HaShem lead our soldiers to a speedy and decisive victory. May all of the hostages and chayalim/Israeli Soldiers return safely to their loving families. And may we merit to see the ultimate redemption when “nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore” (Isaiah: 2:4) … and the mission begun by Avraham will be completed as “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God.”
Shabbat Shalom, Lauren