Vayera: Abraham’s Legacy of Paradox (Not language-connected)

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Which is the true Abraham - the Abraham of the beginning of this 
week's Torah Sidra, in which defends the wicked Sodomites in a 
confrontation with G-d, or the Abraham of the end of the portion,
where he takes his guiltless son to be slaughtered on an anonymous
summit?
 
Here is a man who's entire life is dedicated to helping and providing
for others. When confronted with the horrifying reality of the depravity
of Sodomite society -- particularly their attitudes and actions vis-a-vis
outsiders, foreigners (see San. 109b) - the very antithesis of everything
Abraham believed in, Abraham should have been expected to rejoice at
their impending destruction. Instead, in one of the greatest apparent
displays of both irony and chutzpa in the Torah, Abraham confronts
G-d:
 
               It is *forbidden* for You to do such a deed... will the Judge
               of the whole earth not do Justice? (18:25)
 
But, still more ironically, Abraham is criticized by the Zohar not
for his gall in questioning G-d's express will -- in the most direct
of terms -- but rather that he did not go far enough in fighting *for*
the Sodomites. The Zohar (1:105b) compares Noah, Abraham and Moses. 
Noah, upon hearing of the impending destruction of his generation, did 
not even open his mouth. Abraham requested that Sodom be spared for the 
merit of whatever righteous individuals might reside there. Moses, on the 
other hand, upon being told by G-d to "leave Me... that I might destroy
them" (Ex. 32:10), wasted no time. He began forthwith to pray that
the entire nation be saved - whether or not they deserved it; whether
there were righteous among them or not.
 
Whether Abraham  went far enough or too far in striving to save Sodom,
how does his decidedly activist stand on behalf of the *wicked* Sodomites
jibe with his button-lipped response to the command to slaughter his
*righteous* son with his own hands? Which is his true nature?
 
The truth is, neither; and this itself is perhaps Abraham's greatest
legacy. Abraham's *nature* would certainly have allowed Sodom to
be destroyed, and of course to protest against his beloved son's
sacrifice. But, as a leader, he had trained himself to *transcend*
his natural inclinations; never to react emotionally or impulsively,
never to either protest or submit -- even to G-d Himself -- based on
what seemed right to *Abraham* alone, but first to be absolutely
sure that his own desires were not clouding his decisions. 
 
Abraham demonstrated repeatedly that he was willing to bow to
G-d's will no matter how painful the consequences. But he did not
use this as a self-righteous excuse for treading on others, even
those who were thoroughly evil, *even* when G-d himself expressed
his will to destroy them. 
    
     Abraham is aptly called "Haivri," literally meaning
"from the other side," possibly because he was constantly examining each
event from every side, from every angle. His great legacy to humanity
is *humanity* - never to react automatically like a machine, but to
take each action *thoughtfully* - this is the essence of the human
being.
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Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg

Founding Director, Editor-In-Chief at Veromemanu
Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg is the Founding Director and Editor-in-chief of Veromemanu and it' website BiblicalHebrewEtymology.com.

Yehoshua is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain and currently lives in Israel with his wife and children.

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Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg