Today is the jahrzeit of my dear father-in-law, Milton Freedman, grandfather of five Eagle Scouts. 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 learn of some of the qualities that made Abraham a great Scout.
At the very beginning of the parasha we see that Abraham is Kind. In this, he acts as God does.
Abraham is recovering from his recent circumcision, and “God appeared to him”. (Genesis 18:1) 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 malachim (spiritual beings usually identified as “angels”) in the form of men, and Abraham, despite the discomfort of his recent surgery, rushes to greet them. Abraham hurries to treat them kindly by making them comfortable and to feed them a meal.
Abraham and Sarah have lived many years without being able to have children. The malachim tell them God promises they will have a son, which of course is a great kindness.
God then reveals to Abraham the cities of Sodom and Gemorrah (Amorah, in Hebrew) will be destroyed because the people there are wicked. Abraham fears that there may be good people in those cities who will perish because of their sinful neighbors. So he begins to question God: “Will You even obliterate the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous people in the midst of the city?” God says that for the sake of the fifty the cities will be spared.
Abraham then asks God if the cities will be spared for the sake of fewer righteous people: forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, and finally, only ten. Each time God says the cities will be spared 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 – to be kind to them – that he would even test God’s patience.
Later, God commands Abraham to take his son, Isaac, and “bring him up” to Mount Moriah (where the Temple will later stand in Jerusalem) as an offering. Both Abraham and Isaac, who is a grown man at this point, understand this to mean Isaac is to be killed as a sacrifice.
Father and son make all the preparations for what they think God wants. Just as Abraham is about to slay Isaac with a knife, a malach stops Abraham. When God told Abraham to “bring up” Isaac “as an offering” it really 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. By sending the malach to save Isaac, God has again shown kindness.
These examples of God and Abraham remind us that we should always be looking for ways to act on the point of the Scout Law to be Kind.