Torah Fax 

Lech Lecha - Friday - November 7, 2008 - 9 MarCheshvan, 5769


Torah Reading: Lech Lecha (Genesis  12:1 - 17:27)
Candle Lighting: 4:26 PM
Shabbat ends: 5:27 PM


Feeling Good?


Our parshah tell us that when Abraham was compelled to go to Egypt because of famine in the land of Canaan, he told Sarah to say that she was his sister so that the Egyptians would not kill Abraham in order to take her. When Pharaoh learned the truth about Sarah and Abraham, he sent them away, but not before giving Abraham gifts. Indeed, Abraham, the Torah relates, was "heavy with cattle, silver and gold." We may presume that he acquired this wealth from the gifts he received from Pharaoh. These gifts in turn generated even more wealth for him. In short, the troubling ordeal his wife Sarah had with Pharaoh paid off, at least financially.
We then proceed to a subsequent narrative in this week's parshah, where Abraham assists the king of Sodom in his battle with other kings. The king of Sodom expresses his gratitude to Abraham by offering him considerable compensation for his support. Abraham was offered to keep all the spoils of war except for the human hostages that were to be returned to Sodom. But Abraham refused to take even the slightest gift from the king!
The question has been raised: Why did Abraham refuse to take anything from the king of Sodom, while the Torah does not record that he demurred when Pharaoh gave him gifts?
One answer, based on Rashi's commentary, is that in truth, Abraham never used the gifts he received from Pharaoh. He subsequently gave it to his children (Yishamel and the six other sons of his third wife, Keturah). He refused to benefit from these gifts.

The question still can be raised as to why he refused to take anything from the king of Sodom and leave it for his children, while he did take the gifts from Pharaoh?
One answer that may be offered is contained in Abraham's own words. Abraham, upon refusing to accept the king of Sodom's offer said, "And you shall not say that I have made Abraham rich." Abraham did not want the king of Sodom and others to think that the wealth G‑d promised him actually came from the king of Sodom.
We may conclude that this fear that people would say that his wealth came from a mortal king rather than from G‑d was a concern only with the king of Sodom and not with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Why?
Sodom distinguished itself in its selfishness. In Sodom outsiders were not welcome except to the extent that they helped Sodom become richer. Indeed, their cruelty to unwanted guests was legendary. For this reason, the people of Sodom welcomed Lot, Abraham’s wealthy nephew, into their community, while, as the Midrash tells us,  they were ready to torture to death an unwitting traveler whose misfortune brought them into the city limits. Based on his knowledge of the psychology of Sodom, Abraham knew that when G‑d's blessing to him for wealth would be realized, the king of Sodom would claim that the wealth was all his. He would demand that Abraham share his wealth with Sodom. Thus Abraham refused to take anything from him lest his blessings would be tainted by the involvement of the king of Sodom.
By contrast, Pharaoh, as depraved and immoral as he was, was not into claiming everything for himself. The evil of Egypt was not selfishness to the ultimate degree as was the evil of Sodom. Pharaoh, when realizing that Sarah was Abraham's wife, was more than eager to have her returned to Abraham and asked Abraham to leave the country. He was not interested in gaining from Abraham. Abraham therefore did not refuse to accept gifts from him because he did not fear that Pharaoh would lay claim to all his future wealth.
Another novel way to understand the difference in Abraham's attitude towards the gifts he received from Pharaoh and those he received from the king of Sodom involves a better understanding of the human condition with respect to doing that which is required.
When the Torah describes the great wealth that Abraham had when he left Egypt, it uses the unusual adjective "heavy." One way of understanding the unusual choice of language to describe immense wealth (instead of just stating that Abraham was very rich) is to first understand the dynamics of human nature.
It is almost axiomatic in Talmudic literature that when a person has an obligation to do something there will frequently be a negative reaction, a certain reluctance to do the Mitzvah. Moreover, even when a person would desire something that is neutral, if they then become obligated to do it, they develop a resistance to it. Thus the Talmud counter intuitively states: "Greater is the one who is commanded to do a mitzvah and does it than the one who is not commanded to do it and still does it."
For example, one may regularly and cheerfully volunteer for a charitable cause. One day, they are told that they are now obligated to help. According to the Talmud, they will discover a certain measure of hesitation and lack of enthusiasm for the same act of kindness. The rationale for this apparently illogical reaction is that when one is obligated to do something, the evil inclination within us puts up a fight, so there is a struggle for us to do what we need to. This gives our positive actions that much more meaning.
Now we can offer a novel and ironic way of translating the words "And Abraham was heavy with cattle, silver and gold." Abraham felt a sense of heaviness and an aversion to the wealth he was offered by Pharaoh. Instead of the natural human inclination to crave wealth, or at the very least, welcome it and feel good about it, he felt that this wealth was heavy, a burden. He therefore knew that it would not be a concession to his evil inclination for him to take the wealth because he had absolutely no positive feelings about it and was not attracted to it at all. He felt that this type of wealth would not bring him down. He concluded that it must simply be G‑d's way of providing him with the means to carry on his work to bring G‑d's unity and the virtues of kindness and justice to the world.
When he was offered wealth by the king of Sodom, by contrast, he felt a natural sense of desire for it. He felt good about it. For Abraham that was, ironically, a danger signal. That was a sign to him that he was being tested. Abraham passed that test and declared he wants no part in the wealth that comes from this source.
One of the distinguishing elements of the Messianic Age is that the challenges that we have now will no longer be around. To be sure, the Messianic Age and the opportunities it will bring will provide us with new challenges—such as the challenge of going from one positive experience to another. However, the challenge that we have today to resist temptation and to counter the resistance we have for good, will no longer be around.
The message is that we should utilize every remaining moment before the transition into the ultimate Age of Peace arrives to meet our challenges to today.
One such challenge is to recognize that the blessings we enjoy in the world today do not come from the kings of modern day Sodom. They are G‑d's blessings!     

Moshiach Matters 

We are commanded to await Moshiach just as a person anxiously awaits an inevitable event. This idea is affirmed by the verse in Isaiah, "The grass dries out, and the blossoms wither, but the word of our L-rd is eternal."(The Chofetz Chaim on Awaiting Moshiach)

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