Torah from Around the World #88


Rabbi Ann
Blitzstein Folb


Temple Sholom

Galesburg, IL

Progeny of Abraham”

Parashat Vayera is rich with stories that are
well known to us and which teach us many lessons, although to be sure, they do
not always seem to tell us consistent things about either God or Abraham. 
The same Abraham who argues with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorra in
Genesis 18:22-33 goes willingly to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s command in
Genesis 22:1-24. Why no argument here?

I would like for a moment to focus on the
verses from Genesis 18:18 & 19. These verses follow the visit of the three
messengers/angels who announce to Sarah and Abraham that Sarah will have a son
at a time in life when such an event seems quite unlikely. Abraham asks his
wife and servants to prepare a meal for the guests, two of whom then proceed on
to Sodom.

We are then given some insight as to God’s
plan for Abraham as God ponders how much of the future should be shared with
Abraham, “Abraham is certain to become a great and populous nation, and through
him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed! (

I guess I should trust

.) For I have selected him, so that he may teach his children and those
who come after him to keep the way of the Eternal, doing what is right and just
so that the Eternal may fulfill for Abraham all that has been promised him.”

Our text, in these two verses, leaves us with
several questions which do not go unnoticed by our rabbis.  One pertains
to the issue of who will inherit the responsibility for what Abraham teaches.
The second question refers to the relationship between what is “right” and what
is just.”

We find in

Sefer Ha-Aggadah

(*1) the
following Midrash based on Genesis Rabah 49:4, 43:7, and 54:6,

Abraham used to
receive wayfarers. After they had eaten and drank,

he would suggest, ‘Say
grace.’ When they asked, ‘What shall we say?’

he would reply, ‘[Say],
‘Blessed be the everlasting God of the world, of

whose bounty we have
partaken.’ If the wayfarer, having eaten and

drank accepted the
suggestion and said grace, he would be allowed to

depart. But if he
refused, Abraham would say, ‘Pay what you owe me.’

When the wayfarer asked,
‘How much do I owe you?’ Abraham would

reply, ‘A jug of
wine—so much; a pound of meat—so much; a loaf of

bread—so much. Who
do you suppose is giving you wine in the wilderness?

Meat in the
wilderness? Bread in the wilderness?’

The wayfarer, now aware
that he must either pay or thank God by saying

grace, would say,
‘Blessed be the everlasting God of the world, of whose

bounty we have
partaken.’ This is the meaning of the description of

Abraham as one who
‘bestows free bounty and justice’ (Gen. 18:19)—first

bounty, then justice.”

Since wayfarers were not to be understood as
one of Abraham’s kin, then the implications are clear that God’s blessings
extend beyond those who are kin, and so also does the obligation (justice) to
say grace, offering thanks to the One who provided what would not just come
automatically in the wilderness.

Further, the text tells us here that the
merit of just deeds falls directly to Abraham himself and not to Abraham’s kin.
From this Rashi comments further, on the same verse teaching that “we may infer
that he who raises up a righteous son is as if he never dies.” Those we welcome
into our midst as “Jews by Choice” have always been known as sons and daughters
of Abraham and Sarah giving merit to Abraham just as was promised.

It seems to me, that if we take these lessons
to heart, there are enormous implications for us as moderns.  Those of
other faiths are not only recipients of God’s bounty but also have the same
obligations as we do in relationship to these unearned gifts. It is the only
fair way to repay what they receive so miraculously and otherwise without merit.
They are righteous and just in every sense of the word. It is the best argument
for interfaith dialogue and building bridges that I can imagine.  In that
manner through Abraham, “All the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.”

Rabbi Ann Blitzstein Folb can be contacted


Sefer HaAggadah

, Hayim
Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Ravitzky editors, translated by William G. Braude,
Schocken Books, New York 1992 pg. 34 #18

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