Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Vayeira 5771: How do we speak?

Question
Parshas hashavuah Question: In this weeks parsha we have Avraham pleading with G-d not to destroy Sodom?
and the cities around it and also G-d ordering Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak. What similarity is there in the two speeches and what can we learn from it?

This weeks parsha is Vayeira Bereishis (Genesis) 18:1-22:24

Answer
What is the commonality between these two speeches? Lets look at how they go:
Avraham starts at 50 righteous people, then slowly decreases until he reaches ten. He goes from the easiest to justifyto the hardest. After all, in a group of cities if there are fifty righteous people it is easy to justify- if there are only 10 it is much harder to justify. It is the minimum number for a community- thus the amount for a minyan, but at the same time one could argue it does not make sense to save a few cities if between them they can only offer up a bare minimum for a community of righteous people!

G-d starts of telling Avraham that he must sacrifice his son and progresses to the specific son of Yitzchak. Now, Avraham lived in an era where the sacrifice of a child as a form of worship was known, if not common. However, there were limits- the son of the king, due to inherit the mantle of royalty, would not be sacrificed; the child who was to inherit and head up the family was not sacrificed; it was those that came afterwards that wereconsecrated to idols. In a similar vein we see later in history during the medieval period that in royal families where there children beyond the necessary heir- carreers in the military or priesthood were the norm so they would not be there to compete with the heir. But here the item that does nto make sense is the one that is being pushed- the heir, the one to continue the nation, the one destined to to lead the Jewish people is to be sacrificed. Again we see the progression from the understandable to the finality which seems to not make sense and which cannot be justified.

So we see this common idea in both speeches- but we also see that in both cases the people do not go straiight to the final idea, but progress down to it. There is a progression and a chance for the unexpected, the strange to be able to become more familiar and more acceptable.

This idea has both positive and negative implications- on the positive side we can learn that when we seek tot each, to bring people into, or improve, their Jewish observance, we should do it slowly. Let them progress at a speed where they can assimilate an idea, adjust to it and thus move from what makes the most sense and is easiest to them, to that which may not make sense and is thus harder for them to implement. On the negative side you have the often repeated idea that as peopel desacend into sin they generally do the “lighter” actions first. As they become acclimatised to that, they progress downwards going deeper and deeper into sin until they are performing actions that previously they would have found unthinkable but now they are comfortable with. For this reason chazal warn us against associating with sinners or even doing things that are allowed if they would lead us into this negative spiral. Just because something is allowed, does not mean it is desirable- and the yetzer hara utilises our own weaknesses and feeling of comfortable with acts , forbidden or marginal, to eventually make those acts which are completely forbidden seem desireable-after all.

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October 20, 2010 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments