Charity and Justice

by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon

Until now, the Torah does not explicitly reveal why G-d chose Avraham.  However, in our parsha, for the first time, G-d explains why he specifically associates Avraham with the destruction of Sodom. (Breisheit 18:19)

“For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of G-d, doing charity and justice, in order that G-d might then bring upon Avraham that which He had spoken of him.”

Avraham is characterized by his following of G-d’s way, and his way of “charity and justice”.

The Midrash makes unexpected comments about the above sentence. (Vayikra Raba (Margaliot) Bechukotai: 36)

Rav Brechya and Rav Levi said in the name of Rav Shmuel the son of Nachman Avraham:

Avraham was saved from the burning furnace only because of Yaakov’s merit. This situation can be compared to someone who was once sentenced to be burned. When the authorities who had imposed the sentence looked at the man’s future (through astrology), they saw that the man would have a daughter who would marry the king. Therefore, they decided to save the man from burning by virtue of his future daughter’s bethrothal to the king.

Hence, for a similar reason, Avraham was saved from being burned by Nimrod. When G-d foresaw Yaakov as one of Avraham’s descendants, he said that Avraham should be saved by Yaakov’s virtue. From this we can understand the following sentence:

“Thus G-d said to the house of Yaakov which Avraham redeemed.” (Yeshayahu 29:22)

The Rabbis say that Avraham himself was created only by virtue of Yaakov. This helps us understand our original quote,

“For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of G-d, doing charity and justice” (Breisheit 18:19)

Only because of Yaakov do we have charity and justice, as it is written:

“Justice and charity were established by Yaakov.” (Tehillim 99:4).

Our sages say that the reason for Avraham’s being saved from Sodom and possibly the reason for his creation is Yaakov’s establishment of charity and justice in the future. This statement seemingly greatly diminishes Avraham’s stature. This sentence, which is supposed to describe Avraham’s greatness, seems to describe Yaakov’s greatness.

However, the opposite becomes evident, which is Avraham’s special distinction.  Avraham was chosen, not because of his independent existence in the world, but due to his being the father of the Jewish people.

Avraham was chosen, not only because of his exceptional character, but also because he would bestow these qualities on his future descendants. Not only would he educate the nation of Israel, (“he commands his children and his household after him”) but the nation would also follow that way in practice. (“they keep the way of G-d, doing charity and justice”).

Avraham is the founder, the leader and the outstanding educator of all of the Jewish people. However, the Jewish people is the reason Avraham was chosen. G-d’s knowledge that the Jewish nation would originate from Avraham was the reason for his being chosen.

Doing charity and justice characterizes Avraham, but also characterizes and obligates us, his children.

While it is possible that the expression is talking about doing “righteous” justice relating to honesty and morals, it is also possible that the expression is referring to Tzedaka as charitable deeds (חסד) and justice from the aspect of judgment, combining charitable deeds and charity together with  judgment and honesty.

About two concepts in our daily prayers do we use the verb “love”. The first is the love of Israel, found in maariv, the evening prayer:

“May You not remove Your love from us forever. Blessed are You, G-d, who loves His  nation of Israel”.

The second is the love of charity and justice found in the Shmona Esreh prayer:

              “Blessd are You, G-d , the king who loves charity and justice.”

    G-d loves his Jewish people and G-d also loves charity and justice. These two elements originate from the sentence in our parsha, where G-d calls the way of Avraham ” the way of G-d”.  Furthermore, G-d explains his choice of the Jewish people as the people who walk in G-d’s way, the way of charity and justice.

    Honesty and justice are important concepts everywhere in the world. However, with regard to the nation of Israel, these concepts are the fundamental modifier and central characteristic which are the basis for our being chosen.  We must constantly aspire for justice and integrity, aspire to follow G-d’s way, praying that just as G-d loves charity and justice, he will always continue his love for us –

             “and Your love will never turn  away from us.”

  Shabbat Shalom.