Friday, November 15, 2019 /17 Heshvan, 5780
Parashat Vayeira Genesis 18:1-22:24
During a Torah portion jam packed with stories such as the Binding of Isaac, Abraham and Ishmael’s circumcision, and the birth of Isaac, the Torah gives us a powerful lesson in rebuke.
The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were known for their immorality. When a visitor came to town for a wedding, they would steal from him. Although the cities were overflowing with produce and gems, the inhabitants were unwilling to help any strangers who passed by. When a visitor came to town, they gave him a coin, but refused to accept it, preferring that he starved. When the people of Sodom found out that a woman gave food to people in need, they killed her for it. (B. Sanhedrin 109b)
God came up with a plan to destroy these two cities. Reluctantly, God shared this plan with Abraham. “The outrage of Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grave!” God explains. (Genesis 18:20)
Abraham was appalled at God’s plan. How could God kill the people of two entire cities? This was contrary to everything Abraham believed in. Surely there would good people who lived there still! “What if there should be fifty innocent within the city?” Abraham asked “You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it?” Abraham then paused and offered one of the most stunning rebukes in the Torah: “Chalilah lecha! God forbid You do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Chalilah lecha! God forbid you do this! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:24-25)
As stunning as it is that Abraham has the courage and moral tenacity to rebuke God, his words are more powerful still. In using the phrase Chalilah lecha, God forbid, Abraham does not rebuke God’s characters but rather God’s actions. Abraham does not insult or accuse God of being unjust. Instead, he takes a moment to consider how to help God to be God’s best self in this moment.
Abraham offers a stern rebuke, from a place of compassion, respect and understanding. “God, you are just and moral. This action doesn’t seem to be you at your best. It doesn’t speak to the God I know you to be.” Only then can Abraham and God come to a compromise, and they are both better because of it.
Like Abraham, may we speak up when injustice presents itself. Like Abraham, may we have the courage to understand where our fellow is coming from, and may our words of rebuke come from a place of compassion and respect.
Rabbi Cassi Kail