Today is the yahrzeit of my dear father-in-law, Milton Freedman. He was well-known for his generosity and graciousness to family, friends and guests, so it is very appropriate that we study the lessons of kindness in this week’s parasha in his memory.
In this week’s parasha, Vayeira, we read of the greatest of Abraham’s ten trials – the binding of Isaac.
After many years without being able to have children, God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son, Isaac. Now, in Vayeira, God commands Abraham to take Isaac and “bring him up” to Mount Moriah (where the Temple will later stand in Jerusalem) “as an elevation/burnt offering”. Both Abraham and Isaac, who is a grown man when the “binding” occurs, understand that Isaac is to be killed as a sacrifice.
Both father and son make all the preparations for what they think God wants and, just as Abraham is about to slay Isaac with a knife, an angel stops Abraham. Abraham finds a ram caught in a thicket, and they offer the ram. It turns out that when God told Abraham to “bring up” Isaac “as an offering” He meant that by Being Prepared to make this incredible sacrifice Isaac would be elevated to holiness, just as an offering to God is made holy – dedicated to the service of God.
This act of devotion to God by both Abraham and Isaac is unequaled in the rest of the Torah. But there are two other acts of Abraham in this parasha that are more like what we might encounter, and we should study them as examples of the point of our Scout Law that “A Scout is Kind”.
The first comes at the very beginning of the parasha. Abraham is recovering from his recent circumcision, and God appears to him. God’s action here teaches us the mitzvah of bikkur cholim, visiting the sick. Because God knows that Abraham loves to welcome guests, God brings three angels in the form of men, and Abraham, despite the discomfort of his recent surgery, rushes to greet the men, even breaking off his visit with God. Abraham hurries to make his guests comfortable and to make them a meal.
God then reveals to Abraham that He will destroy the cities of Sodom and Gemorrah (Amorah, in Hebrew) because of their wickedness. Abraham fears that there may be good people in those cities who will be destroyed because of their sinful neighbors. So he begins to question God: ”Will You even obliterate righteous with wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous people in the midst of the city?” God says that He will spare the city for the sake of the fifty. Abraham then asks God if He will spare the cities for the sake of fewer righteous people: forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, and finally, only ten. Each time God says that he will spare the city for that number. During this conversation, Abraham knows that he may be annoying God, but he still continues. Abraham was so concerned to do justice and not punish the righteous with the wicked that he would even test God’s patience.
So we see that Abraham is not only devoted to God, but also to the people He created, a devotion shown by gemilut chasidim, acts of loving-kindness.