Vayeira (Genesis 18-22 )
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GOOD MORNING! Once, while visiting people in the hospital, I met a man who was especially happy to see me. He told me, "You are the first rabbi I have spoken with since my Bar Mitzvah 50 years ago! I want you to know that you'll never find a Jew with more pride in being Jewish than me! If anyone says anything against another Jew or the Jewish people, I'll beat him up!" I was duly impressed with the commitment and bravado of this 63 year-old man. I then asked him, "Please, I would love to know what it is that you take so much pride in the Jewish people." He responded, "Rabbi, weren't you listening? I told you that if anyone says anything against another Jew or the Jewish people, I'll beat him up!"
I tried twice more to find out the source of his pride in being Jewish, but there was nothing; he only reiterated his pugilistic prowess. There are many reasons to be proud of being Jewish. Every morning when I get up I thank the Almighty that I am part of the Jewish people and working for the Jewish people!
What if you could buy one book that would fill you (or your children or your brother-in-law) with pride in being Jewish and give you all the ammunition you needed to respond to a curious rabbi visiting you in the hospital?
Rabbi Ken Spiro, my colleague and friend, has written such a book: WorldPerfect - The Jewish Impact on Civilization. For years, Rabbi Spiro, a historian, would begin his class on Jewish history by canvassing his students as to what are the values that they and the world hold dear which are necessary for a utopian society. Here are the results compiled from approximately 1,500 students:
- Value of Life - People have the right to life, and to live with a certain basic dignity and rights.
- World Peace - On all levels, communally and globally, people and nations should co-exist in peace and harmony with mutual respect.
- Justice and Equality - All people, regardless of race, sex, or social status, have the right to be treated equally and fairly in the eyes of the law.
- Education - Everyone has the right to be functionally literate as a basic tool for personal advancement and the ability to attain knowledge.
- Family - A strong, stable family structure is necessary for the moral foundation of society.
- Social Responsibility - Individually and nationally, we are responsible for each other. This includes responsibility for: disease, poverty, famine, crime and drugs, as well as environmental problems and animal rights.
Where do these values come from? Most people would say Greece or Rome. Would you be surprised to find out that they are wrong? In a highly readable, well-documented and fascinating book, Rabbi Spiro illuminates the origins of values and virtues in Western Civilization. Would you be surprised to learn that these values came from the Jewish people?
If you are thinking "the good rabbi is exaggerating a 'bit' about the Jewish influence on civilizing humanity," I bring John Adams, Second President of the United States! Writes Mr. Adams:
"... I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations.... They are the most glorious Nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a bauble in comparison of the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the Globe and have influenced the affairs of Mankind more, and more happily than any other Nation, ancient or modern." (from a letter to F.A. Van der Kemp, 1808. Pennsylvania Historical Society.)
Paul Johnson, a Christian historian, writes in his book, The History of the Jews, (New York: Harper & Row, 1987):
"One way of summing up 4,000 years of Jewish history is to ask ourselves what would have happened to the human race if the Jewish people would not have come into being. Certainly the world without the Jews would have been a radically different place. Humanity might have eventually stumbled upon all the Jewish insights. But we cannot be sure.
"To [the Jews] we owe the idea of equality before the law; of the sanctity of life, of collective conscience and of social responsibility; of peace and love, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind. It is almost beyond our capacity to imagine how the world would have fared if they had never emerged."
If you are fascinated to learn more about the impact of the Jewish people on humanity, you can purchase a copy at any bookstore (though it is nice to support your local Jewish bookstore!) or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242. There is also an online interactive multi-media seminar at www.aish.com/worldpefect.
For more on "Jewish Impact on Civilization" go to ShabbatShalomAudio.com!
Torah Portion of the Week
Avraham, on the third day after his brit mila, sits outside his tent looking for guests to extend his hospitality. While talking with the Almighty, he sees three visitors (actually angels of the Almighty). Avraham interrupts his conversation with the Almighty to invite them to a meal. One angel informs him that in a year's time, Sarah, his wife, will give birth to a son, Yitzhak (Isaac).
God tells Avraham that He is going to destroy Sodom because of its absolute evil (the city is the source of the word "sodomy"). Avraham argues with God to spare Sodom if there can be found ten righteous people in Sodom. Avraham loses for the lack of a quorum. Lot (Avraham's nephew) escapes the destruction with his two daughters.
Other incidents: Avimelech, King of the Philistines, wants to marry Sarah (Avraham's wife), the birth of Yitzhak, the eviction of Hagar (Avraham's concubine) and Ishmael. Avimelech and Avraham make a treaty at Beersheva. Avraham is commanded to take up his son, Isaac, as an offering "on one of the mountains" (Akeidat Yitzhak). Lastly, the announcement of the birth of Rivka (Rebecca), the future wife of Yitzhak.
Do you want to know the reward for listening to the command of the Almighty? This is what the Almighty told Avraham:
"... I shall surely bless you and greatly increase your descendants like the stars of the heavens and like the sand on the seashore; and your offspring shall inherit the gate of its enemy. And all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring, because you have listened to My voice."
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Avraham invites three visitors to stay for a meal with the words:
"I will fetch a morsel of bread that you may sustain yourselves, then go on."
Yet, Avraham does not give them a crust of bread, he dines them in a lavish style with a multi-course banquet. Why does Avraham use such a parsimonious invitation? Wouldn't a sumptuous description have been more enticing?
In the Talmud (Bava Metzia 87a) the Sages derive from here the principle that the righteous say little and do much. The wicked, however, say much and do little as we see next week with Efron's false assurances to Avraham when Avraham wants to bury his wife, Sarah.
Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, of the Mir Yeshiva, commented on this that talking about what you plan to do is negative. It is superfluous and often counterproductive. Talking is easier than doing. It creates expectations. And then, even with the greatest of intent, things happen which prevent doing. There is pleasure in talking about the good you intend to do, but it is a cheap way of getting honor and approval. Talking changes the focus from doing good for its own sake to doing good for the sake of approval. And there are those who make grandiose promises and then they forget .... causing great heartache and pain.
CANDLE LIGHTING - November 18:
(or go to http://www.aish.com/shabbat/candlelighting.asp)
Guatemala 5:12 Hong Kong 5:21 Honolulu 5:31
J'Burg 6:18 London 3:49 Los Angeles 4:30
Melbourne 7:55 Mexico City 5:39 Miami 5:15
New York 4:18 Singapore 6:34 Toronto 4:47
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Silence is a fence around wisdom.