And Abraham will become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the world will be blessed in him. For I have known him because he commands his children and his household after him to keep the way of Hashem, to do righteousness and justice, in order that God might bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him. (Genesis 18:18-19)
The Torah teaches us that Abraham became av hamon goyim, the father of many nations, precisely because of the way he educated his family to keep God’s commandments and behave righteously. God declares that He loved Abraham ‘because he commands his children and his household after him to keep the way of Hashem, to do righteousness and justice, in order that God might bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him.’ (Genesis 18:19).
Abraham’s legacy has permeated every generation of Jewish existence. Throughout the ages Jewish families have embraced the importance and responsibility of both educating and raising children.
Our sages obligated young children who had reached the age of education to travel with their families to the Temple in Jerusalem for the three pilgrim festivals. Even though they had not yet reached the age of religious maturity, they were required to take part in the experience and learn about this important mitzvah.
According to Beis Hillel this obligation begins when the child is able to ride on his father’s shoulders as they ascend Har HaBayit on their way to the Temple, whereas Beis Shammai require the child to be able to hold their father’s hand and walk by themselves. Either way, the image is beautiful; parent and child experiencing together what must have been the most phenomenal sight of Jews from all over the land of Israel gathering in unity to serve God and celebrate the chagim.
We are certainly blessed with a wonderful Jewish educational system owing to an ever-growing community of Jewish schools. Yet the idea of parents and children celebrating Judaism together expresses the greatest paradigm of all for Jewish education.
While our schools provide a good framework for learning, it is our family which gives us a direct link back through the generations to our forefathers. When parents and grandparents share their love and excitement of Judaism, they will instil in their children and grandchildren the most important lessons of all.
And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground.And he said, “My lords, if only I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass on from beside your servant. (Genesis 18:2-3)
The Gemara (Shabbat 127a) notes that Abraham seemingly interrupted his conversation with God in order to invite the three men into his tent indicating that the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim – welcoming guests into one’s house, is an even greater mitzvah than receiving the Divine presence. Rabbi Menachem Meiri (d. 1310) notes that in terms of derech eretz – good social behaviour, there is no greater mitzvah (ibid).
Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (d. 1572) contends that in essence the concept of hachnasat orchim was to provide for the impoverished and destitute and to host visitors who have no place to eat or sleep (Orach Chaim 333:1). According to his position, while it is nice to invite friends over, if they could have eaten or slept in their own home it is nothing more than a social gesture. Even so, some authorities do include social gatherings of this sort in the mitzvah of hachnassat orchim as it encourages friendships and communal bonding (Minhag Yisrael Torah 132:7).
The Chofetz Chaim (d. 1933) also details the measures a host should take to ensure that their guest has a pleasant and comfortable experience. For example, one should greet their guest with a happy face and offer them something to eat or drink so that they will not be embarrassed to ask. The host should serve the meal so that guests should feel free to eat and drink to their own content. When the guest wishes to leave, the host should escort them from the house at least 4 amos (cubits) which is approximately 2 metres and give them directions home.
From the kind actions of our forefather Abraham we learn that something as mundane as eating or sleeping can be transformed into a great mitzvah with everlasting merit.
And Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?’ … ‘Shall the Judge of the earth not do justice?’ Genesis 18:23, 25
Immediately after learning of God’s plan to destroy the cities of Sodom and Amorah, Abraham begins to plead for their mercy. Yet the difference between Abraham’s ethos and that of Sodom could not have been starker. While Abraham embodied the essence of chesed through acts of loving-kindness towards others, the citizens of Sodom exemplified precisely the opposite traits with their culture of ruthless, institutionalised brutality against outsiders.
Logically, Abraham should have been delighted to hear of Sodom’s imminent demise. Yet he confronted God and challenged Him over the decision. Why did Abraham argue with God, in Whom he had shown such profound faith and spare the lives of those who stood opposed to his principles?
To compound the question, King David writes (Psalms 104:35) Yitamu chataim min ha’aretz…,normally translated as ‘Let the sinners be removed from the earth…’ However, within this verse lies the answer to our question. The Gemara (Brachot 10a) records that Bruria, the wife of Rebbi Meir notes that the verse uses the term chataim, meaning sin, not chotim meaning sinners.
Abraham pleaded with God to help destroy the sin of Sodom, not the sinners themselves. He begged that God should help bring about their repentance and save them from destruction, reflecting his character of loving-kindness and compassion for human life.
The distinction is important; righteousness does not give man the license to be insensitive to the demise of evildoers. On the contrary, Abraham teaches us that a genuine love for mankind should initially elicit a hatred of evil, not of evil people. God however teaches Abraham that there will sadly be some who are beyond forgiveness and must be eliminated to purge the world of iniquity.
A version of this article first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.