Trials of Avraham
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s Parsha, Vayeira, continues with episodes from the life of our first Patriarch, Avraham. He was a man of great compassion who did not wish to see, even the wicked suffer. He believed in man’s capacity to correct his flaws and do Teshuva.
Hashem told Avraham, that He was about to destroy Sedom and Amorah, because of the magnitude of their sinfulness. Avraham then “challenged” Hashem’s decision, and prayerfully argued on behalf of the condemned cities. Hashem conceded to Avraham, that if ten Tzadikim (righteous people) could be found in Sedom, He would spare the city because of them.
Avraham “won” the argument but lost the engagement; because after all was said and done, the requisite number of righteous souls could not be found. Still, it was extremely important for Avraham to delve into the deeper principles of Divine justice and make such a heroic effort to save nations from destruction.
The obliteration of Sedom and Amorah left the area a burnt out wasteland. As a result, people ceased to traverse that territory and there was no longer any passersby for Avraham to host. This seemingly insignificant detail was very consequential in the life of Avraham. Avraham’s life consisted of deep involvement in study, and the performance of loving-kindness and good deeds.
His goal was to wean people away from idol worship and to instruct them about the True G-d; and the appropriate way to worship Him. In line with this objective, he offered generous hospitality to passing strangers. This created an ideal setting, in which to communicate his unique teachings.
Therefore, when the scorched earth prevented people from coming, Avraham found himself “out of business”. So he pulled up stakes and moved on, with the intention of going to the Negev; and he wound up in the land of Gerar, which was ruled by the King Avimelech.
At that point–Avraham realized that once again–he had to be concerned about people, who would be attracted to Sarah’s great beauty; and believing that he was her husband, would scheme to get rid of him. So, he resorted once again to put out the subterfuge that Sarah was his sister.
The subsequent events were basically a replay of what had happened in Egypt with a few differences. Sarah’s great beauty was duly noted, and she was brought to Avimelech, who took her as a wife. But before he could touch her, Hashem smote him with plagues, and he was forced to return her to Avraham.
Once again, Divine Providence came to the rescue of our illustrious Forefather. But the question arises, why did Avraham subject himself and Sarah to such a great risk? In explaining to Avimelech–why he felt constrained to pretend that Sarah was his sister–he said, “For I thought there is no fear of G-d in this place and they will kill me because of my wife.”
Thus, we see that Avraham had ample reason to be afraid that lust for Sarah might cause someone to plot his demise. So, why would he choose to settle in Gerar, knowing about the danger that he faced? The circumstances with the descent to Egypt was a different story, as he was forced to go there because of the famine. But it seems that settling in Gerar was a voluntary choice. So, why would he go there and place himself and Sarah in harm’s way?
Perhaps the answer lies, in the reason why he uprooted himself from his previous habitation. It was because the passersby had ceased traveling through the area, and there were no people whom he could instruct in Torah. He was compelled to seek out another locale, which was suitable to calling out to the masses, and instructing them to renounce idols and embrace the true service of Hashem.
From that perspective, Gerar was the most appropriate location to setup a new home. That is not to say that it did not contain dangers to Avraham’s safety, but he was willing to take the risks in order to engage in his Avodat Hashem (Divine service).
Just as the physical famine forced Avraham to endure the dangers of Egypt, so too did the threat of a spiritual famine compel him to seek out a place which was amenable to his mission; to spread knowledge of G-d. He did what he had to do–took the measures he had to take–and placed his faith in Hashem; and he prevailed.