Word for the Week ... Parsha Vayera
Rabbi Simche Sherer

Is it a sin to argue with G-d? Is it sacrilegious to question the Divine? Well, Abraham did it. Not for himself though, but on behalf of the people of S’dom, whom G-d had decided to destroy because of their wickedness. Abraham was the paragon of chessed, the personification of kindness and compassion. He grappled with the Almighty, attempting to negotiate a stay of execution for the inhabitants of the notorious cities of S’dom and Amorrah.

“Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” he asks G-d. “Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?” ‘If there are 50 righteous men, will you spare them? 45? …40? …30? …20? …10?’ In the end, Abraham cannot find even a minyan of righteous men in the cities and he gives up. And the verse reads V’Avraham shov limkomo – and Abraham went back to his place. Having failed in his valiant attempt at salvation, he acknowledges defeat and retreats.

But there is also an alternative interpretation to those last words. And Abraham went back to his place can also be understood to mean that he went back to his ways, to his custom. And what custom is that? To defend the underdog, to look out for the needy and to help those in trouble, even if they are not the most righteous of people.  Abraham refused to become disillusioned in defeat. He went right back to his ways, even though this particular attempt did not meet with success. He may have lost this particular battle but he was still in the war.
What happens when we lose? We hurt, we sulk, and we give up. It didn’t work, it’s no use. All my efforts were in vain. It’s futile, why bother? Just throw in the towel.

Not Abraham. Abraham stuck to his principles. He may have experienced a setback, but he would still champion the cause of justice. He would still speak out for those in danger. And he would still take his case to the highest authority in the universe, G-d Almighty Himself.

Abraham teaches us not to lose faith, not to deviate from our chosen path or our sincerely held convictions. If we believe it is the right thing to do, then it is right even if there is no reward in sight. If it is right, then stick to it, no matter the outcome.

A favourite cartoon character is good old Charlie Brown in Peanuts. One strip that comes to mind is where there is a storm raging outside and Charlie Brown is determined to go out to fly his kite. His friends tell him he must be crazy to attempt flying a kite in this weather, it’ll be destroyed by the wind in no time. But in the last frame we see Charlie, resolutely marching out the door, his kite firmly tucked under his arm and the caption reads, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

Do we believe in our principles of faith because of expediency? Are we virtuous because we believe it is the way to the good life? Are we looking for ‘brownie points,’ are we waiting for the big payoff for our good behavior? What happens when we don’t see it? Do we become frustrated, disillusioned and angry at G-d?
Some people become religious for the wrong reasons. They are looking for some magical solution to their problems in life. When their problems don’t disappear as quickly or as miraculously as they had expected, they give up religious lifestyle. It didn’t work. “ I’m outta here”.

Virtue is its own reward. Sleeping better at night because our conscience is clear is also part of the deal. In the words of the Sages, “the reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself.”

Abraham reminds us that a Jew’s gotta do what a Jew’s gotta do, regardless of the outcome. Whether we see the fruits of our labours or not, if it’s the right thing to do, then carry on doing it.

May we all be true children of Abraham.