Saturday, November 04, 2006

Parsha - Vayera

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When G-d tells Avraham that He is about to destroy Sodom and Gemorrah, Avraham pleads and bargains with G-d to save those cities and their inhabitants. During the negotiations, Avraham shows his humility by describing himself as “mere earth and ashes” (Genesis 18; 27). Rabbi Yonasan Eibschitz points out that with the double phrase of ‘earth and ashes’ Avraham is seeking extra merit for the people of Sodom. ‘Earth’ stresses the fact that people are only mortal, and their origin is in the earth. With such a background it is only natural that people are drawn to sin, since the base element of their physical body draws the soul away from G-d.
However, Avraham himself shows the futility of this claim. If he was able to surmount such humble origins, and elevate himself to the service of G-d, what excuse do the people of Sodom have? Elsewhere in the Tanach we find a similar claim. The Tzorfati woman asks Eliyahu to leave her home, saying: “Have you come to me to show up my sins, to kill my son?” (I ings 17; 18). Though she was one of the few righteous people of the generation, compared to Eliyahu she felt inadequate, and any shortcomings that she had were highlighted by his near perfection. Though Avraham was arguing on behalf of Sodom, his personal commitment showed up their faults. Therefore he added ‘ash’, as a reminder of the fact that he had survived being thrown into a furnace by Nimrod, in Ur Kasdim. Though he survived miraculously, he could have been burnt to ash. Since he personally experienced the miracle of surviving the furnace, he had a greater debt of gratitude to G-d. Therefore he describes himself as ash to plead on behalf of Sodom, that because they had not experienced this Divine salvation, G-d could not reasonably expect such a high level of behaviour from them.

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