Friday, November 9, 1984
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
ID. & VISA
Abraham's challenge to God and mankind
BY RABBI IRWIN GRONER
Special to The Jewish News
One of the most moving and
Abraham challenges God. The
dramatic dialogues of the Torah is
patriarch's moral stature is con-
found in this week's sedrah.
siderably greater than that of
God wants to destroy the cities
Noah, the progenitor of the
of Sodom and Gomorrah because
human race. Noah was told about
of their wickedness for "their sin - the flood that would sweep away
is very grievous." God reveals to
all living things. We find no pro-
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Abraham what is about to take
test voiced by him on behalf of
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place and the Bible explains this
humanity, only compliance with
extraordinary fortelling of the
the plan for the rescue of himself,
Divine plan to a mere mortal: "For
his family and the animals.
I have known Him to the end that
Abraham, in marked contrast,
He may command your children
protests his Divinely-willed act of
and His household after Him, that
annihilation. To him, Sodom was
they may keep the way of the
not an abstract unit identifiable
Lord, to do righteousness and jus-
as a "city." Sodom, in Abraham's
tice." Abraham, the exemplar of
consciousness, was an area in
righteousness, the witness to
which lived thousands of indi-
God's presence in the world, was
vidual human. beings who loved
informed so that he might prop-
and wept and laughed and suf-
erly grasp the moral significance
fered. In his boundless love for
of the Divine judgment on the de-
man, Abraham was aghast at the
prospect of the annihilation of his
fellow human beings.
In courteous language, yet with
the daring of a great hero, Ab-
raham pleads with God: "Wilt
Thou, indeed, sweep away the
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righteous with the wicked?" Had
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Abraham stopped at this point
coming or going
and said no more, the implication
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would have been: "Therefore,
God, save the innocent and let the
way, at your front door!
guilty perish in their sin." But
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Abraham's infinite love for all
people, inqluding the wicked, is
expressed in the continuation of
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argument: "Perhaps there are
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Thou indeed sweep away and not
forgive the place for the 50 right-
eous that are therein? Or for the
40 or the 30 or the 20 or the ten?"
Abraham's argument then
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Thou destroy the whole city for
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lack for five?"). With boldness he
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declares: "Far be it from Thee to
do such a thing" and yet, he recoils
in awe as he states: "Behold, I
have taken upon myself to speak
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With Abraham's moral cour-
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the Biblical and Jewish tradition.
Adam and Eve challenged God by
disobedience, but they had to
yield. Abraham challenges God
not by disobedience, but by accus-
ing Him of violating His own
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Abraham, in seeking to draw
closer to God, offers us the highest
aspiration of which the human
per pers., dbl. occ.,
soul is capable. In seeking to con-
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front the Creator with the ques-
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is aware that he is but a speck of
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humility does not prevent him
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fi-om seeking the truth. What a
powerful image the Bible portrays
of this weak, mortal, fragile crea-
ture who is prepared to challenge
the Lord of the Universe in the
name of justice.
The Biblical answer to Ab-
raham does not move us as pro-
foundly as his question. Abraham
is assured that God would not de-
stroy the city of Sodom if there,
were 50 or even ten righteous
"within the city."
The text implies that a few
could tip the scale and save the
place but only if the righteous in-
II Kings 4:1-37.
dividuals were "within the city,"
playing an active part in public
life and exercising their influence
in diverse fields of activity. But if
they are indifferent to the welfare
of their community, if they with-
draw their concern for the moral
climate of their city, they may,
perhaps, save themselves but will
certainly not possess the spiritual
merit capable of preserving their
fellowmen. Those who believe in
justice, truth, freedom and com-
passion must exert every effort to
save the society in which they
live, for all that evil needs to pre-
vail is for good people to do noth-
We, who live in the post-
Holocaust age, can read these
passages and identify with the
questions of Abraham more easily
than the answer he was given.
But we can draw strength from
his challenge, and guidance from
Abraham did not give up his
struggle for justice and right-
eousness even after the cataclys-
mic destruction. To be a Jew in the
tradition of Abraham is to be both
humble and defiant, submissive
yet critical, faithful to the will of
the Almighty, yet capable of chal-
lenging Him in the name of the
highest standards of morality.
Above all, to be a Jew means to
cling to our love for mankind even
when that love is severely tested.
Spiritually, we are all the chil-
dren of Abraham.
Rabbi Mandelbaum to be guest
at Shaarey Zedek Great Weekend
In celebration of Shaarey
Zedek's "Great Weekend," Nov.
17 and 18, President-Emeritus of
the Jewish Theological Seminary,
Rabbi Bernard Mandelbaum, will
address the congregation on "The
Mystery and Miracle of Jewish
Existence," during Shabbat serv-
ices at 8:45 a.m. Nov. 17, and will
expound on "The Wit and Wisdom
of Judaism" at a luncheon follow-
ing the morning services.
The next day at 9:15 a.m., he
will speak again during a Cul-
tural Commission - Shaarey
Zedek Men's Club-sponsored
breakfast to which the entire con-
gregation is invited.
Rabbi Mandelbaum's appear-
ance is being made possible by a
gift from the Sarah W. Davidson
and William Davidson Families.
Dr. Samuel Stulberg is chair-
man of the Cultural Commission.
Sheldon Satovsky is men's -club
There is a fee for the luncheon,
but there is no charge for the Sun-
day breakfast. Reservations are
required for both.
Rabbi Mandelbaum was
awarded his doctorate by the
Jewish Theological Seminary in
1953, from which he also received
an honorary degree of Doctor of
Divinity. He is an honor graduate
of Columbia University and holds
a Master of Hebrew Literature
degree from the seminary.
He was professor of homiletics
on the faculty of the rabbinical
department, and is alos former
president of the America-Israel
He served as executive vice
president of the Synagogue Coun-
cil of America and director of re-
search of its Institute for Jewish
Rabbi Bernard Mandelbaum
Policy Planning and Research.
For ten years, he was co-author
of- the seminary's annual High
Holy Day message. These mes-
sages were the framework for
Rabbi Mandelbaum's book,
He published a collection of es-
says, Assio-nment in Israel. He has
written Add Life to Your Years
later titled To Live with Meaning.
In 1981, he co authored Art and
Judaism: A Conversation with
Yaacov Agam and Bernard Man-
delbaum. He has written articles
on ethics and on the interpreta-
tion of Judaism for many publica-
Rabbi Mandelbaum has been
editor of the seminary's Eternal
Light radio and TV series. He was
program editor of two Eternal
Light films produced in Israel,
The People of the Book, and The
Land of the Book.
In 1981, he was appointed to the
Advisory Committee on the Arts.
Appointed by former Mayor of