Monday, August 03, 2020

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Kudos to Rabbi Pruzansky for his article “The First Modern Orthodox Jew: Two Models” (November 21, 2019), in which he uses Avraham and Lot to exemplify two models of Modern Orthodoxy that may be found in our community. However, while he spends a fair amount of time describing the unhealthy and unsustainable “Lot” model that needs to be avoided, he says very little to describe the “Avraham” model that should be followed instead. As such, I would like to add to his comments by examining three ways in which Avraham interacted with Lot and his chosen home of Sodom.

The first such interaction occurred after Lot was captured in a war. When Avraham was told of this matter, he did not judgmentally say “This serves him right for choosing to live in such a morally corrupt area,” but rather mustered an army to go rescue Lot and the rest of the people of Sodom. The second interaction, on the other hand, is very different. After the war, when the king of Sodom offered to let Avraham have all the rescued property, he replied, “I will not take even a string or a shoelace; I do not want you to be able to claim any share of responsibility for my wealth.” This rejection appears even harsher when one considers that Avraham had no problem taking gifts from the kings of Egypt (previously) or the Philistines (subsequently); it would appear that he was specifically unwilling to take money from the king of Sodom, in order to avoid legitimizing his behavior in the specific area where he was most corrupt (for, as Chazal tell us based on pesukim in Neviim, the sexual immorality of Sodom was secondary to their monetary selfishness). Such a response appears more than a little judgmental, and it is very likely that the king of Sodom felt offended or even hurt by it, but Avraham nevertheless responded in this manner, and we are informed that several of our mitzvos were in fact the reward for this response. The third incident occurs when Avraham was told that Sodom was to be destroyed for their sins, and was prepared to argue with Hashem in order to try to save them, attempting to find some good in them that would spare them from destruction.

This, then, may be our lesson as to how to be, as Rabbi Pruzansky puts it, “part of society while remaining apart.” We must stand up for the values of the Torah, even to the point of judging those behaviors, beliefs and desires that go against it, and even if those who do not subscribe to Torah values may decide that they feel offended or hurt by the prioritization of a value system that they personally do not subscribe to (provided, of course, that they will not cause problems for our community as a result). We must also, however, show kindness and consideration for the legitimate needs and interests of others even when they fall short of the mark (provided, of course, that they are not actively trying to harm our community), and must always strive to see the good in them, as well, rather than judging them for the flaws that we see.

Yitzhak Kornbluth