In last week’s reading, we witnessed Avimelech who put forth supposed “logical” arguments towards God as to why he was treated unjustly by taking Sarah. After all, he claims, how can he be faulted for taking her when he thought she wasn’t Avraham’s wife. He keeps pressing the argument.
Finally Avraham says to him that all of his claims are worthless because there is no fear of God in this place.
What was Avraham saying? In essence, Avimelech was trying to justify an argument that was based in moral corruption. Any civilization that feels the first question to a man is whether the woman he is with is his wife has demonstrated how corrupt it is. In this society, God didn’t exist as the arguments were mere tools to continue in false ways.
This gives a glimpse into the greatness of Avraham, for when he tries to sacrifice Yitzchak and is held back, God testifies how now He knows Avraham has fear of God. The fear that God expected from Avraham was whether he would go against everything he stood for. However for society, at the very least, a basic moral clarity is needed.
Dovid HaMelech took 70 years from Adam and in Tehillim he says how God looks down on man from up high and looks to see if he will make decisions based on his sechel, his thinking mind. The message is that Adam went against a basic law as a servant of God, failing to apply his thought process as to whether it was worth defying God’s order. Dovid, as a tikkun, is telling man to think before he acts in order to function with a moral compass.
The story is told of Rav Hutner that in Germany when Hitler was rising, the students got into a debate as to whether Germany was a society of culture and refinement or not.
One student brought a proof by the fact that after a German would give directions to someone, the German would ask the person, if the directions he just gave the person were correct. This was a nonsensical question since the person couldn’t confirm if it was right as they just asked for it. One student argued that this shows the refinement of the Germans whereas Rav Hutner said all of their thinking counters human behavior.
Many years later, that student came to Rav Hutner. He asked Rav Hutner if he remembered him, which Rav Hutner affirmed and put out his hand to greet him. This man had no arm with which to return the greeting. He told Rav Hutner that he was right about the Germans. He said he was captured and as one of the Germans was sawing off his arm, he said to the student, “This hurts, is that correct?” Such a society had no fear of God.
At a minimum we can claim that we have moral clarity. We don’t engage in arguments to justify unjustifiable behavior. We are thinking people. And therefore, God can look at us and say that this is a nation that has arisen above Adam, as fear of God is central to our core.
Steven Genack is the founder and editor of Aish Haolam.