PARASHAT HAYEI SARA: Corruption? Not in our house!

The drama of father Abraham.

A WOMAN plays with her daughter in a field of anemones near Kibbutz Alumim in southern Israel, earlier this year. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
A WOMAN plays with her daughter in a field of anemones near Kibbutz Alumim in southern Israel, earlier this year.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
This week’s parasha, Hayei Sara, may be summarized as the change of generations in Patriarch Abraham’s family, but this hides a complicated drama.
After Abraham’s wife, Sarah, dies, he understands that he has to find a wife for his son Isaac.
He is worried that if Isaac does not marry, there would be no continuation of his family and as a result there would be no continuation of the monotheism that stands for the values of justice and charity that the Jewish people uphold to this very day.
This concern leads Abraham to command his servant, Eliezer, to set out on a search in the land of Abraham’s birth, Aram-naharaim, on the River Euphrates.
There, says Abraham, you must find a wife for Isaac.
Abraham has been living in Canaan (the Land of Israel) for decades and has even entered into covenants with its residents. However, he makes his servant swear that he will not take a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanite women.
Why? What fault did Abraham find with the women of Canaan? We would understand Abraham if his family back in his native land shared his belief in one god, but that was not the situation.
Abraham’s family worshiped idols, as did the rest of the people of Canaan. Why, therefore, did Abraham prefer the women of Aram-naharaim over the women of Canaan? This question has been asked by generations of biblical commentators, but we will examine the answer of the greatest of Spanish rabbis of the 14th century, Rabbi Nissim of Gerona, as he wrote in his book Drashot Haran. According to him, the flaw Abraham found in the people of Canaan was not based on their belief in idol worship.
His concern was different. He knew the people of Canaan well and saw that their behavior was improper.
They did not believe in values of morality; they did believe in exploitation and robbery. Canaan had developed a culture of greed rather than charity, of deceitfulness rather than honesty. This culture came to a head in Sodom, a city that abused its guests in order to prevent strangers from staying there.
Therefore, adds Rabbi Nissim, Abraham refused to let Isaac marry a woman from Canaan. He was adamant about not integrating with a culture that does not stand for moral values.
Furthermore, Abraham understood that distorted values impact far more than just upon the individual.
A person who acts deceitfully is an educational role model for his children, who may also adopt those same distorted behaviors.
Abraham battled idol worship his entire life. From when he began to stand for monotheism and the values that stem from it, he would wander from place to place to spread the message, but he knew that it was possible to deal with various beliefs. He was convinced of the righteousness of his path and was not afraid to face idol worshipers.
Dealing with corruption is a different story. A person raised in a home where norms are distorted, where there is no honesty or justice, is hard to repair.
A person can change and acquire a moral outlook and improve his or her behavior even if educated badly, but Abraham was not prepared to take that risk.
These principles are the basis of the Jewish nation and have to remain our beacon. Every parent, every educator, has to be aware that his or her actions shape future generations. A person without integrity harms not only those around him, and not only himself. He harms what is dearest to all of us – our children. 
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.