A Person of Substance
As we continue the story of our ancestor and patriarch Avraham, we consider both his background and the lessons he taught in life, which can influence our actions for the better. When he left Haran, Avram left with …his wife Sarai…and “all the wealth that they had amassed.” When the two return from Egypt where they have fled during a famine in the Promised Land, “he acquired sheep, oxen, asses, male and female slaves, she-asses and camels.” Clearly, Avram is a man of substance. His lesson is that material substance must be backed up substantive deeds of righteousness.
Over Avraham’s story we observe that he is a man of both graciousness and justice. Indeed, the mystical sefira of chessed, or loving-kindness, is attributed to Avraham, partly because of his deeds that begin this week’s parashah. According to tradition, it is just days after his self-circumcision at age 99 and Avraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent “in the heat of the day.” The commentators note that instead of being comforted in his cool tent, Avraham intentionally exposes himself to the elements in order to notice any passers by who may be in need. He sees three strangers approaching and runs from the tent to greet them, welcomes them and insists on quickly preparing a meal for them, as well as providing them refreshment and opportunity to refresh themselves. From this story we learn the mitzvah of “hachnasat orchim”, the welcome of strangers, one of the core practices within “gemillut chassidim”, deeds of loving-kindness.
In addition to his giving, Avraham is a man of action who leads by example. When he and Sarai return from Egypt, quarrels break out between his and his nephew’s shepherds; Avraham resolves the problem by partitioning the land in order to achieve peace. When Lot and other civilians are then taken prisoner in a war, Avraham musters a militia in order to free them. His pursuit of justice is epitomized by his arguing
with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, which are doomed for destruction. In his famous bargaining session with God he ultimately challenges God: “shall not the Judge of all the earth judge justly?”
Thus we see our ancestral model that a man of wealth and substance does not rest on his laurels, but uses his means to provide for others and to improve the society of which he is part. Alas, not so today’s American. America is the first country in GDP. But a growing body of research is overwhelmingly consistent and shows the rich tend to be more selfish, less empathetic, less generous and lass compassionate. While there are exceptions to the rule, there is always more we as individuals, a community and a people can do.
We should be inspired by Abraham. Our wealth and privilege should be used in a way of mitzvah – a compulsion to do right, to give to others, to give back to the society in which we are so blessed.