by Jacob Solomon
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| Avram took… the souls he made in Haran… and they came to the Land of Canaan
Rashi, quoting the Talmud (Sanhedrin 99b), states that the souls the Abraham made in Haran were those people whom he brought under the wings of the Shechina – to monotheism. Idol worship was the way of life in Abraham’s home background – Your ancestors lived on the other side of the river... Terach the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods (Joshua 24:2). Abraham converted the men, and Sarah converted the women.
Abraham succeeded where Noah failed. The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 30:7), states that Noah spent 120 years building the ark. This was because those of his generation would ask why he occupied his time that way. Noah would reply the ark was a shelter for the event that was threatened if they would not repent – namely the extermination of all life. No one repented.
What were the reasons for Abraham’s success? What qualities were lacking in Noah?
In answering these questions Abraham had two special qualities which are implied in this Parasha. They were, firstly, creativity and secondly, exclusiveness. At first glance, these seem strange to those who are familiar with the narrative, and they are developed below.
Both Noah and Abraham are referred to in the text as being tamim (6:9, and 17:1 respectively). This word is popularly rendered as ‘perfect’ but it can also mean having faith and trust. When Moses told the Israelites to be tamim with G-d (Deut. 18:13), he meant that they were to trust G-d that whatever He planned was for their ultimate benefit, and they were not to turn to witchcraft and seances for counsel and reassurance (Rashi ad loc.). Thus both Noah and Abraham were described as having this form of a trusting faith in G-d.
However Noah had that form of faith only – Noah walked with G-d (6:9) – he was able to quote what G-d said to him – but so far and no further. In contrast, Abraham walked before G-d (24:40): R. Ze’ev Zechariah Breuer (in Siach Hashulchan, p.20) explains that Abraham showed initiative – he did not just merely quote G-d’s teachings, but he presented and developed them in such a way as to attract others. Abraham subsequently applied this initiative creatively to human situations, giving the teachings of G-d a human face and making them attractive so that others would follow him. He did not preach doom – he displayed gratitude (12:7). He did not criticize those who did not follow his teachings; instead, he showed concern and self-sacrifice for their physical and material concerns - even when they did not follow his ideals (as with Lot: 14:14). He also knew when to refrain from imposing personal chumrot (stringencies) on others: he allowed his helpers to take from the spoils of Sodom as a reward for their services, even though he refused to accept any reward personally. When G-d commanded Abraham to walk before him and be 'tamim' (17:1) He meant that there were times when such compassionate creativity was to give way to His commandments – even where they seemed unpleasant at the time (such as with Hagar and Ishmael).
The second quality was exclusiveness. Abraham influenced people – but he would only work with them in an environment that was conducive to his teachings. Thus he did not protest when G-d commanded him to go from your homeland, your birthplace, and your father's house to a land which I will show you (12:1), by saying 'Let me stay where I am and persuade the idolaters of Haran to repent'. Instead he took with him those who were prepared to be influenced – the souls he made in Haran – and he requested from them what G-d had requested from him: to leave home for an unknown destination under His guidance. Similarly, Abraham did not enter Sodom, with all its economic benefits, with view to establish places of learning and yirat shamayim. His approach in influencing people was not to go to them, but to invite them to come to him (R. Chaim Wilschanski in For the Shabbat Table, p.30). As the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 49:1) states, his home was open on all four sides for people to come to him. He showed exemplary hospitality, but he took no payment. When his guests thanked him, he would say, "Do not thank me, but thank the Almighty". When he was asked, "Who is that?" he would try to persuade his guests to abandon idol worship and worship G-d.
These qualities discussed suggest essential attributes for successful spiritual leadership for all times. The Torah way of life is not a mere series of dogmas, but something very much deeper. It has to be interpreted and presented creatively so that people will desire to practice its ideals and mitzvot. However this must be within the limits set by the Torah – even if they seem inconvenient difficult to understand (tamim) – such as the laws of Kashrut and Shaatnez – within the context of modern needs and modern times. And they have to be taught in an atmosphere of goodwill – without the constant intrusions of negative elements – exclusiveness...
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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