Parshat Hayyei Sara: Open-mindedness without losing our values

This Shabbat, we will encounter another personality trait of Avraham, the founding father of the Jewish nation.

The Torah (photo credit: REUTERS)
The Torah
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week we read in the Torah about Avraham, the man of charity, the lover of all people, who three days after a brit mila – a complicated procedure for a 99-year-old – sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day and waited for guests. He did not surrender and did not feel sorry for himself, but just wanted to try and help others with all his might When he noticed three men from afar, he ran toward them and begged them to come to his tent and rest a little. That was the kind of man Avraham Avinu was. A man of grace and charity.
Even when he found out about the Divine plan to punish the people of Sodom, that same corrupt population that acted in a way diametrically opposed to the values in which Avraham believed, he did not remain a bystander watching their punishment unfold. The opposite was true. He stood and prayed, and begged G-d not to punish them. That was the kind of man Avraham Avinu was. A lover of all mankind.
This Shabbat, we will encounter another personality trait of Avraham, the founding father of the Jewish nation. He had a son who was already 40 years old and still a bachelor. Any parent would worry at this stage about the future of his beloved son. Avraham was especially concerned, knowing that Yitzhak was meant to continue his legacy, so Yitzhak’s future was the future of the entire Jewish nation.
Avraham enlisted his loyal servant Eliezer to go out and find a shidduch, a match, for his son. The woman should be special, suitable for the house of Avraham and to continue the building of the Jewish nation.
Before Eliezer embarked on the search, Avraham makes him promise, actually swear, that the intended woman would not be from among the women of Canaan, the infamous nation with terrible customs, but rather from among his family in Haran.
At this point, Eliezer presents Avraham with a question: And if she, this same special woman, does not agree to leave her family and move to Avraham and Yitzhak’s house in Canaan? What then? Maybe Yitzhak should then move to Haran? Avraham was horrified by the question and warned Eliezer: Beware of returning my son to there! Here the reader cannot help but wonder: Is this the same Avraham who joyfully brought any person into his house so he could host them? Is this the same man who took pity on the Sodomites and pleaded for their salvation? What happened here to make him such an extremist, unequivocally unwilling to allow his son to marry one of the women of Canaan or to have his son move to another country? Where did Avraham’s famous love of mankind go? This is exactly what the Torah wishes to teach us: the exact balance between loving all mankind and being wary of a negative society which can impact a person.
Avraham was willing to give of himself to anyone without first investigating that person’s opinions, customs, origins or perspectives. He is also the one who knows to beware of close relationships with a negative person or closeness to a society with negative characteristics.
This balance teaches us that acceptance of another, loving mankind and giving without limits, does not necessitate compromising our values. A man can be charitable and kind to others, and at the same time, stand tenaciously for his own principles.
This balance is particularly necessary in this generation, a generation that has experienced one of history’s greatest revolutions: the scientific revolution. If in the past, to learn about a specific culture or a community’s outlook, we had to travel far and invest our time; nowadays things are different. In a matter of minutes, we can learn about anything, any culture or idea that exists out there. We don’t have to sit at the entrance of our tent to let guests in...
Let us be clear: This revolution is a good one. It offers a huge contribution to humanity and to Judaism. But it is dangerous as well. This wonderful exposure can led to a blurring of lines, to confusion. Principles and values can become culture-bound, subjective, and changeable based on place or time.
This is where we need that balance that Avraham teaches us. Open-mindedness does not conflict with clear-cut values. Acceptance of others and of their ideas does not necessitate the blurring of ideological lines or the erasure of principles. To a certain extent, the role of our generation is particularly challenging.
Along with exposure to every crumb of knowledge and every utterance written or spoken, we must remember the eternal values gleaned from the Torah, to deepen our hold on the nation of Israel and the Torah of Israel, and through this become people who are healthy and stable, capable of being familiar with different attitudes without getting confused or erasing our own independent persona.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.