One of the fundamental issues of debate amongst observant Jews regards the degree of openness with which one meets the surrounding culture. Should we “ghettoize” ourselves, trying to avoid the negative and pernicious influences of the outside world? Or must we engage the world about us, influencing it and being influenced by it, even if it entails some degree of risk? One must weigh many factors in determining the answer to this question, one that dates back at least to the time of Avraham Avinu.
“And the people of Sedom were evil and sinners towards G-d beyond all measure” (Breisheet 13:13). Despite their depravity, Avraham Avinu argued, challenged, pleaded and negotiated with G-d for their welfare. It is specifically this trait of caring and concern for “evil” people—a trait that characterized all the Avot and Imahot—that demonstrates their greatness. They may have despised the evil of Sedom, but the people of Sedom were to be spared.
Our tradition teaches that the founder of the Jewish people, Abraham, is the one who introduced the notion of daily prayer to the world. “And Abraham awoke in the morning to the place, el hamakom, where he had stood, asher amad sham, before G-d” (Breisheet 19:27). Though prayer is not actually mentioned in the above verse, our sages interpreted the word amad, where he stood, as a reference to prayer, stating that “there is no standing other than prayer”.
“Take your son, your only son, the one you love, v'lech lecha, and go for yourself to the land of Moriah” (22:2). So begins the command of G-d demanding the sacrifice of Yitzchak. After waiting so long to have a child with Sarah, Abraham was commanded to take his child and return him to G-d. In the face of such a command Abraham was silent—or shall we say speechless?—unable to comprehend the Divine will even as he arose early to carry it out.
This week’s d’var Torah is sponsored by Arthur and Sheri Little in observance of the Yahrzeit of Arthur's father, Leonard Little, Aryeh ben Avraham Yitzchak z"l.
Judaism eschews extremism. This obligation to be moderate is codified into law by no less an authority than the Rambam; it is, as he points out, "the path of G-d" (Deot 2:7). Furthermore, the goal is not limited to the development of traits of moderation in our attitude towards money, food, or honour; it is to make them second nature to us.