Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Illusions and Reality

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It’s 1938, Iran is Germany and it is arming itself with atomic weapons. That was the message Binyomin Netanyahu recently tried to drive home. Leaders have a responsibility to rouse their people when they see danger, he said, to tell them the truth and act upon it. But there is a dearth of leadership today.

If the world does not want a nuclear holocaust, Iran’s nuclear ambitions must be stopped. We would hope that the world isn’t facing another war to rid itself of yet another menace, but illusions crash on the face of reality. There doesn’t seem to be an alternative.

One of Israel’s founding principles was its promise to protect the Jewish people. Had there been a state of Israel a decade earlier, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) would have defended the Jews’ right to exist and prevented the holocaust. That myth has been punctured once again.

Last year, Israel’s army hero turned prime minister turned conventional wisdom on its head and pulled the Jews out of Gaza. At the time, Israelis were told that the purpose of this upheaval was to free the IDF from policing Gaza. It was also to rescue the die-hard settlers from the clutches of the Gazan Palestinians bent on their destruction. Deals were made with Egypt to protect its border with Gaza and prevent smuggling of arms into the Jew-free zone.

Gazans were warned that if any trouble emanated from the area, the army would be back; terror would not be tolerated. But what does the record show? Crude Kassam rockets are shot daily into Israeli cities. Miraculously, the number of victims have been small, although each tragedy is unbearable. Residents of the Jewish state live in constant fear, not knowing when and where the next rocket will fall.

A Russian-born Israeli millionaire had the audacious idea to give the beleaguered residents of S’derot a stress free weekend in an Israeli resort. “A chutzpah,” cried the politicians of the land whose duty it is to defend and protect the citizens of the land. “How dare he take them out of S’derot? We don’t cut and run. We stay there and take it.”

Not only can’t these grandiose leaders protect their people, they become belligerent when someone other than the government shows some concern for the people.

The war just fought this summer in Lebanon and Gaza accomplished little. The three kidnapped Israelis, Gilad ben Aviva, Ehud ben Malka, and Eldad ben Tovah, are still in captivity, Hezbollah is still well-stocked with weapons and Hamas remains just as entrenched as before. The UN protects the Gazans and Lebanese from Israel and is quick to condemn anything that smacks of Israel using “disproportionate force” to defend itself.

Helped by US Secretary of State Rice, the UN forced Israel to give up its fight against Hezbollah before the group could be neutralized as a military power in Lebanon. Moreover, Syria, Hezbollah’s ally, was given the job of preventing the continued flow of arms to the terror group. Could there be a more absurd expectation? Hezbollah is fast on the way to rearming itself to its pre-war strengths. Not only that, but they are currently engaged in aiding Iraqi insurgents battle US forces bogged down there.

But no one stands up to declare that the emperor has no clothes, that the prime minister can’t lead and the defense minister can’t fight. People just go about their business as if the situation is perfectly normal. The government expands; internal political negotiations take center stage as if nothing else is going on. Investigating commissions continue their exercises in tedium. Every day, new revelations pointing to the IDF’s impotence reach the public. No one seems to care.

A cease-fire was just announced. The Kassams may stop flying for a while as the Hamas terrorists rearm themselves and Israel’s leaders accept accolades as if the deal is a major accomplishment for Israel.

Americans recently went to the polls and the incumbent Republican Party took a thumping because President Bush insists on beating back terror by fighting the bad guys on the turf of Iraq. Though a few thousand people in Montana could have held the senate for the Republicans, the fact is that Bush and his party lost, and now it seems as if the war in Iraq will soon be drawing to a close.

Everyone is joining the chorus of naysayers. Not only Democrats, but also Republican stalwarts like Henry Kissinger are saying that military victory is no longer possible in Iraq. Allies like Tony Blair declare that Iraq is a disaster. And everyone seems to be looking for a way out. The Iraq debate escalates as politicians from both parties propose sound bite remedies and the Bush administration looks for answers.

Al Qaeda looks on with glee; Ahmadinejad flashes that ugly grin as he taunts the world. And we look on in apprehension, wondering how it will all end.

The situation grows in its seriousness daily. “The future of the Middle East, certainly the future of Lebanon may well be decided in the next several days,” U.S. envoy to the United Nations John Bolton told BBC radio. “A successful re-emergence of democracy there is being directly challenged by the terrorist Hezbollah and those who support them—Syria, Iran and others.”

People long for simple solutions, but now is not the time for wishful thinking. To sit around wondering when Israel will bomb the Iranian nuclear reactors and solve the problem with but a few F-16s is to indulge in fantasy.

Historical forces are at work and it doesn’t seem as if the Iranian appetite for nuclear weapons and worldwide domination is about to disappear from the world stage too easily.

Radical Islam smells imminent victory in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza. They see the regimes of countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia fighting to survive, unsteady and ripe for further destabilization at the hands of terrorists with a long-range goal—world dominion.

The Islamists regard Jordan and other Arab countries ruled by despots as internally fragile and likely to fall under their power. They view Israel, the US and the West as weak and not prepared to battle them.

The prevailing wisdom seems to be to sit down and negotiate with the two countries fomenting and supporting the Iraqi insurgents, Iran and Syria, as if all they are missing is an eloquent explanation of the American point of view. The absurdity of this approach is lost on those advocating it.

It may very well be that the will to battle the forces of evil has so diminished that those charting the future have succumbed to fantasy and wishful thinking. They’ve convinced themselves that Iran and Syria can be counted on to help spread liberty and peace in the world.

The stakes are very high. At present, our world can not exist without oil. If the 20 million barrels of oil a day which are shipped out of the Persian Gulf would be halted, the world economy would come to a depressing halt. Stock markets would crash. Industries you don’t normally connect to oil would be shut down. That would be bad enough, but even worse, the world’s accusing finger would be pointed at the Jews.

It’s an ancient pattern, blaming the Jews for the world’s ills. This past Sunday, we witnessed the latest variation of this motif from former president Jimmy Carter.

Carter said in a nationally broadcast interview that there was “no doubt now that a minority of Israelis are perpetuating apartheid on the people in Palestine, the Palestinian people.

“And contrary to the United Nations resolutions, contrary to the official policy of the United States government, contrary to the Quartet so-called road map, all of those things – and contrary to the majority of Israeli people’s opinion – this occupation and confiscation and colonization of land in the West Bank is the prime cause of a continuation of violence in the Middle East,” he said.

Carter is asking people to believe that the chief cause of continued violence in the Middle East is not Iran, not Syria, not al Qaeda, not blood-thirsty savages bent on world domination. It is not even the evil United States or its imperialistic president. No, it is the fault of the Jews.

Just imagine what would happen if Israel were to strike Iran and an oil blockade would ensue? What would happen if the Iranian mullahs retaliated by bombing western targets around the world? What would happen if gas shot up to $200 a barrel and people couldn’t travel and therefore lost their jobs?

It’s 1938, Iran is Germany and it is arming itself with atomic weapons. It’s 2006 and Iran is worse than Germany, situated in a much more explosive region. It’s 2006 and Iran may soon have the world in a chokehold. It’s 2006 and people better start realizing that the window of opportunity to defuse this nuclear time-bomb is fast closing. Perhaps it is already too late.

It’s 2006 and the pieces of the cosmic jigsaw puzzle are starting to fit together. We have to daven that Hakadosh Boruch Hu deliver us from the evil designs of those who want to destroy us. It’s 355 B.C.E. and before the nes of Purim. It’s 165 B.C.E. and before the nes of Chanukah.

It’s 2006 and we have to remember shebechol dor vador omdim oleinu lechaloseinu. That means our dor as well. It’s 2006 and we have to remember v’Hakadosh Boruch Hu matzileinu m’yodom, in our day as well.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Avodah of Mincha

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Chayei Sarah begins with the passing of Sarah Imeinu about whom Rashi testifies that all her years were equally good, “kulan shovin letovah.” Avrohom Avinu then sends his trusted aide Eliezer to his homeland to find a life mate for Yitzchok.

Having arrived in the city of Nachor in Aram Naharayim, Eliezer prayed that Hashem send him the girl destined for Yitzchok. We are all familiar with the test he set up to help him identify Yitzchok’s bashert. If the girl would not only offer to quench his thirst but would offer to give water to his camels, Eliezer would then be certain that she was Yitzchok’s intended. And that is exactly how the events played out.

Eliezer completed his mission and returned to Avrohom with Rivka. Yitzchok brought her to Sarah Imeinu’s tent and married her. Only then, the posuk tells us, was Yitzchok consoled over the loss of his mother. Rashi explains that when he brought Rivka to the tent, he saw that she was a worthy replacement for Sarah. For as long as Sarah lived, a candle remained lit in the tent from Erev Shabbos to Erev Shabbos, the dough in the tent was blessed, and the spirit of Hashem hovered over the tent. When Sarah passed away, these three things disappeared, but when Rivka took up residence there, they returned. Thus, Yitzchok found his nechama.

To more fully understand this nechama, we must probe into the meaning of the lights we ourselves kindle on Erev Shabbos. The candles are lit to provide shalom bayis, peace in the house; the halacha mandates that if one can only afford either kiddush wine or candles, the candles have priority, because peace in the Jewish home is a supreme need and there can be no peace without light.

The reference to the ner, light, which remained doluk, lit, from Erev Shabbos to Erev Shabbos, signifies that a Shabbos-like peace reigned in the home of Avrohom and Sarah throughout the week. In tribute to this rarified atmosphere, the onon, a Divine cloud, hovered over their tent. As Hakadosh Boruch Hu says (Medrash, Parshas Pinchos), “Lo motzosi kli machzik brocha elah hashalom,” the vehicle for blessing is peace.

When Yitzchok brought Rivka into his mother’s tent and saw the ner of shalom was rekindled - and that in turn generated the return of the onon - he was reassured that life in his home would reflect the spiritual elevation of his parents’ home. This was a true nechama.

Perhaps we can understand Yitzchok’s nechama on a different level.

The Tur (263) states that there is a machlokes Rishonim with respect to when kedushas Shabbos begins for a Jew who is mekabel Shabbos. The Behag holds that when a person lights the Shabbos candles any time after the time for the tefillah of Mincha - Plag HaMincha - Shabbos begins for him with that act of lighting.

Tosefos disagrees and maintains that the onset of Shabbos does not depend on when the candles are lit, but that it begins with the tefillah of Arvis. When a Jew davens Maariv, that is when he must begin observing the laws of Shabbos, says Tosefos.

The Gemorah in Brachos states, “Tefillos avos tikknum,” the avos were the originators of the three tefillos we pray each day. Avrohom instituted Shacharis, Yitzchok instituted Mincha, and Yaakov instituted Arvis, or Maariv.

Avrohom was the av hamon goyim; he was the first to call out in G-d’s name. This is signified by Shacharis, the prayer at the beginning of the day. He introduced the idea of sanctifying one’s day by beginning it in the morning with tefillah.

Yaakov was the first of the avos to go into extended golus. The tefillah he instituted is recited in the dark and signifies that even in times of darkness, a Jew never gives up; he maintains his faith and can exude holiness. It also signifies that a Jew can bring holiness into the darkness of exile.

Yitzchok originated the tefillah of Mincha, which is recited in the middle of the workday. Mincha signifies that a Jew can make the mundane holy. By breaking off in the middle of work and davening, a Jew proves that his priorities are in order; he knows success in business comes not from his own skill but from Above. He also signifies that he can raise his level of kedusha even while engaging in regular workday activities.

The Gemorah (Brachos 24) derives that Yitzchok instituted the tefillah of Mincha from the posuk in this week’s parsha which states, “Vayeitzei Yitzchok losuach basodeh lifnos ohrev.” The Gemorah translates this to mean that Yitzchok went out to daven in the field towards evening.

Tosefos asks how Yitzchok was permitted to daven in the field, since the halacha is that one should not daven in an open field where it is difficult to concentrate. Tosefos answers that the place where Yitzchok was davening was not really a field; it was the Har Hamoriah. The Gemorah in Pesachim (84) states that Avrohom referred to that hallowed place as a “har,” mountain. Yitzchok referred to it as a “sodeh,” field, and Yaakov called it a “bayis,” home.

Perhaps it was in keeping with the avodah of Yitzchok Avinu that the posuk purposely referred to the place where he initiated the avodah of tefillas Mincha as a sodeh. Yitzchok Avinu’s chiddush was that tefillah is indeed possible even as a Jew is deeply immersed in trying to make parnassa. He can - and must - take a break from his consuming business affairs and turn to Hashem. To hint this to us, the posuk from which we derive the obligation of davening Mincha refers to Har Hamoriah as a sodeh.

It is with this in mind that we can understand the consolation that Yitzchok felt when he brought Rivka to Sarah’s tent.

When Sarah Imeinu lit the Shabbos lights in her tent on Erev Shabbos, she sanctified the profane and the work week. She brought the holiness of Shabbos into her home where it remained until the following Friday when, once again, she lit the neiros Shabbos.

The kedushas Shabbos in her home began at Mincha time as she kindled those lights. Yitzchok learned this avodah from her. He learned from her example how to bring kedusha into a mundane workday. He saw the mechanism by which Friday afternoon is transformed into Shabbos - and how one can add holiness to one’s day and to the Jewish home.

When Yitzchok brought Rivka to the tent, he saw the way she also lit the candles on Erev Shabbos following the time of Mincha and, by so doing, brought the kedusha of Shabbos into the home. Just as it was with his mother Sarah, the holiness and light lasted the entire week. Yitzchok was then assured that with this woman he could build his home, for she knew the avodah of Mincha.

Perhaps this explains the statement that all of Sarah’s days were “equally good.” Since she used the power of making the profane holy, all her days were spent in holiness - as signified by the ner of Erev Shabbos being lit in her tent from Erev Shabbos to Erev Shabbos.

Everything she did was suffused with holiness, which is what Rashi refers to when he writes at the beginning of the parsha that her bread was blessed. For she knew the avodah of Mincha which brings kedusha to the sodeh and is able to raise the level of its produce.

With this in mind, we can understand the test Eliezer conducted to see if Rivka was a fitting match for Yitzchok. Eliezer was looking for a girl who would understand that spiritual elevation is achieved not only through servicing Eliezer, the most prestigious official of her world-famous uncle, the tzaddik Avrohom.

Even when conducting menial chores for camels and cattle, such as bringing them food and drink, one can raise their level of kedusha if they have the proper kavana. A girl who understands this concept and runs to care for the animals as she cared for Eliezer is a suitable life partner for Yitzchok, the originator of tefillas Mincha.

As we seek to find mates, to bring happiness into our home and to bring meaning to the zayas apecha, the daily grind we endure in the sodeh to make a livelihood, we should keep in mind the lesson that Yitzchok Avinu taught when he instituted the tefillah of Mincha.

We should remember our mothers, Sarah and Rivka, and the kedusha they brought into their homes every Friday at Mincha time, which lasted an entire week. We should remember that light - both physical light as well as the spiritual light of Torah - brings peace, and without peace there is no blessing. If we truly seek shalom in our bayis and in our life, we should strive to increase the light of Torah and Shabbos. Then we will surely be blessed, as were Sarah, Rivka and their families, with days that are all good.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Brotherly Concern

As we continue learning Seder Bereishis, we learn more of the immense stature of the Avos. Parshas Vayeirah is replete with vignettes of the life of Avrohom Avinu, one of the greatest people to ever walk this earth. From his devotion to the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim to the way he dealt with the nisayon of the akeidah, every nuance of his demeanor, speech and actions personified the values he sought to instill in his descendants, which continue to guide and inspire us to this day.

The stories of our forefathers retold in the Torah are not simply fantasy tales written for inspiration, but are benchmarks we can all reach and live by.

“Maaseh avos siman labonim;” the actions of the fathers serve as signposts to their offspring, pointing out the path to self-perfection in this world.

Some of the stories seem plausible only in relation to someone of Avrohom Avinu’s caliber. We wonder if we are really expected to reach the levels of chesed and kedusha that he attained. Yet, if the Torah recorded these spiritual milestones, it was unquestionably for our edification.

Sometimes we need reminders to prod us into doing what Avrohom did naturally.

A story was recently told to me by a dear friend about an 82-year-old woman who was traveling to Eretz Yisroel. She refused to let her advancing age, aging legs and worsening arthritis stop her from her visiting her family and spending time in the Holy Land.

As she made her way to the airplane, an airport security officer insisted that the old woman, who could barely hobble along, remove her orthopedic shoes for inspection, to ensure that there were no bombs in them. Her protests brushed aside, it was an understandably distraught elte bubba who settled herself on a bench in security without a clue as to how she would manage this ordeal. Suddenly, a 70-something chassidishe Yid approached her.

“Allow me to help you”, he graciously offered. “Oiy, Reb Yid, how could I allow you to be zich matriach?” the woman replied, convinced that there is no way a chassidishe Yid is going to bend down to help an old lady remove her shoes.

“Please,” the man persisted, “I was ten years old when they took mein mama off to Auschwitz. Whenever I see a regal Yiddishe bubba like yourself, I think that this is how my mother would appear today had she not been murdered. Please allow me to assist you and pretend that I am helping my old mother!”

Tears streamed down both their faces as he gently undid her laces, sent the shoes through the x-ray belt and after they passed inspection put them back on her feet.

“Thank you”, the old woman managed, after regaining her composure.

“No”, the man replied simply. “Thank you.”

This precious Yid poignantly exemplified the legacy of Avrohom Avinu. To our forefather Avrohom, every woman in need of help was his mother, every woman in need of a meal was his mother. Whenever anyone who needed aid crossed his path, he saw them as his own family. And what don’t you do for family!

Rav Yaakov Neiman, the rosh yeshiva of the Petach Tikvah yeshiva, entered the home of the mashgiach, Rav Moshe Rosenshtien, one Shabbos afternoon, and saw him sitting and studying Chumash with a young child. Certain that it was one of his grandchildren, and wondering which of his children the ainikel belonged to, Rabbi Neiman asked the aged mashgiach with whose child he was spending his precious time on Shabbos afternoon. He answered that it was “Der Ribbono Shel Olam’s ah kind,” a child of Hashem.

If we looked at every Jewish child who wants to learn as if he were the child of G-d, we would be able to make time for them. If we recognized that every Jewish child is a yachson, we’d have patience to spend a Shabbos afternoon learning with them. If we remembered that every Jewish child is der Ribbono Shel Olam’s ah kind, we would treat them the way we wish we were treated - with love and care.

The greatness of Avrohom Avinu was that he didn’t need little mayselach to remind him of the importance of every individual. He didn’t need to imagine that a little old lady who needed help was his mother. He helped anyway. We need these little reminders. We need to have it drilled into us to be kind. Avrohom was so perfect in his beliefs that there was no gap between comprehension and performance. He didn’t need to process the situation in his mind and conclude that positive action was called for. The chesed came reflexively.

These parshiyos of Bereishis are intended to inspire us to train ourselves to do chesed until it becomes second nature, as Avrohom did. These parshiyos remind us that it is indeed possible for us to judge people favorably and to deal forthrightly, honestly and charitably with everyone.

Many ask what the great nisayon of the akeida was. Hashem commanded Avrohom to bring up his son Yitzchok as an offering; how could Avrohom have been expected not to comply?

Rav Shach answers that the only novi to whom G-d appeared b’aspaklarya hame’irah was Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe was told exactly what G-d wanted him to do; all other prophets saw their prophecy in a dream and in a moshol. When Hakadosh Boruch Hu appeared to Avrohom and told him regarding Yitzchok, “Vehaaleihu shom l’olah,’ Avrohom would have been justified in interpreting the command in numerous ways, none of them involving the death of Yitzchok.

After all, G-d had promised Avrohom that his name would live on through his son Yitzchok. It would have been perfectly reasonable to assume that Hashem had something else in mind and that “Vehaaleihu” didn’t mean to sacrifice his beloved son but rather to raise him.

But Avrohom didn’t take that approach. He removed all negios from the equation, he analyzed G-d’s words as if they were referring to someone other than his son, and thus he reached the conclusion that Hashem wanted Yitzchok for a korban.

There is always the urge to wiggle out of doing good things. Too often, we look for a way to get ourselves off the hook of having to perform a chesed that was dropped in our lap. We say, “It’s not for me to do. I don’t have a big enough car. I don’t have enough strength. They don’t need my money; they only need my advice.” If we are asked to make a phone call to raise money for a needy person, we often procrastinate and offer excuses as to why we are the wrong person to make the call.

We say that the person who needs help looks different than us, wears a different kind of yarmulke, or maybe even, G-d forbid, a light-colored suit. We may see someone who needs help but pass them by because we aren’t in the mood to be bothered.

Not so Avrohom. He didn’t make any excuses, he didn’t make any rationalizations. He didn’t look for a way out. Every Jew was his brother. He taxed himself to the utmost to understand the word of G-d and then he ran to fulfill it.

When we have a mitzvah to do, when we have obligations, we shouldn’t seek the easy way out. We shouldn’t look for excuses to shirk our duty; we should seek to carry it out to the fullest, with all hiddurim. Exactly as Avrohom would have done.

The posuk states, “Vayashkeim Avrohom baboker, and Avrohom awoke in the morning.” Many explain that the posuk is teaching us the greatness of Avrohom. Even though he was going to shecht his son, he still awoke at the crack of dawn to fulfill the word of Hashem.

The Brisker Rov offers another fascinating insight. He says that the chiddush is not that Avrohom awoke early. One who is going to fulfill the word of Hashem would naturally wake up early to go do it. The chiddush here is that Avrohom was able to sleep the night before! Even though he knew that he was going to shecht his beloved son in whom all his dreams for the future were invested, he was able to sleep peacefully until morning.

One who is sure of himself, one who has no doubts as to the ways of the L-rd, one who doesn’t question but serves with complete faith, sleeps very comfortably at night. One who deals honestly with his fellow man; one who hears the pleas of the hungry, the desolate and the poor; one who rises to every occasion and doesn’t turn a deaf ear to the cries of the abused and afflicted; one whose life isn’t a string of excuses and half truths, is a son of Avrohom Avinu and can sleep comfortably at night.

There are people of such nobility in every neighborhood. They are the people who are active in bikkur cholim; the Hatzolah men; the menahel who takes in children others would ignore; the mechanchim and mechanchos who care more than anyone will ever know about their students; the doctor who is truly concerned for his patients and goes beyond the call of duty in caring for them; the people who quietly raise and donate money on behalf of those too embarrassed to ask; the people who empty the trash pails in shul when no one is looking; and all those who do all the little things which help out so many people in big ways.

Let’s say thank you to them this week and every week. They are the people who keep the spark of Avrohom Avinu alive and make our people great.

This column was written in honor of Rav Yaakov Bender who embodies so many of the positive attributes of Bnei Avrohom and who is a constant source of support and inspiration to many.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Our Grass Is Greener

Parshas Noach introduces us to Avrohom Avinu, but his true greatness is only revealed in Parshas Lech Lecha. Without any hints as to who Avrohom really is and what he represents, the Torah tells us that Hashem appeared to him and told him to leave his birthplace, to uproot himself from his ancestral home and to move to the land He would show him.

Hashem promises Avrohom that he will make him into a great nation, showering him with wealth and many other blessings. The Torah also recounts that his nephew, Lot, went along with him. Lot left his ancestral home just as Avrohom did. It would seem that Lot was a good guy, casting his lot with Avrohom, following the word of G-d and setting out for parts unknown. His allegiance to Avrohom paid off, as the posuk recounts (12:5) that Lot was blessed with material possessions. Rashi quotes the Gemorah which states that this was a result of his accompanying Avrohom.

Shortly thereafter, the pesukim lift the veil on Lot’s true character. As a consequence of Lot’s being blessed with an abundance of livestock, a rift developed between the shepherds of Avrohom and Lot. Avrohom told Lot that it was time for them to separate. Lot must have been relieved; he apparently didn’t put up an argument. He looked out towards Sedom and was attracted by the lush vegetation there. He offered to move there as Avrohom settled in Eretz Canaan.

Lot, the talmid and relative of Avrohom, ended up in the city, whose very name until today is synonymous with sin.

To understand where he went wrong, let’s take a closer look at Avrohom Avinu.

It took much determination and intelligence on Avrohom’s part to arrive at his position in life. Though Noach was alive when Avrohom was born, the world had already forgotten its Creator. The heathens worshipped the moon, stars, sun and getchkes they themselves fashioned. Avrohom realized that the world had to have been created by a Higher Being and spent the first years of his life seeking Him out.

Avrohom had to contend with enormous opposition. He was vilified by all around him for violating the prevailing doctrines of his day; for not bowing to political correctness. Worse, he became a threat to his father and the ruling powers of the age. So threatened were they that they conspired to kill him and put an end to his dangerous influence.

It would have been much easier for Avrohom to play along with them as he pursued his own agenda. His life would have been smoother had he not antagonized the powers that be as he went about his own personal search to understand how the world came into being.

But Avrohom was not one to accommodate the status quo at the expense of his principles. He stood up and fought for the truth. Once he discovered the Ribono Shel Olam, he was not embarrassed to tell the world about his discovery. He was not deterred by powerful people, by his boyhood friends and not even by his own father. In order to remain true to his ideals, he made sure not to be enamored by the trappings of pagan life. Power, glitz, and accouterments of success did not tempt him.

When Hashem’s blessing came to fruition and he was showered with wealth by Paroh, he remained the same Avrohom he was in Choron. As he returned from his adventure in Mitzrayim which led to the accumulation of his great fortune, the Torah recounts that he returned to the same tent in which he had previously lived. He did not permit his material success to give rise to pride and arrogance and turn him from Hashem. He went back to the mizbeach he had made and called out in the name of Hashem.

Lot was different. He hung onto Avrohom, but when he returned from Mitzrayim, there was a change. The posuk doesn’t recount that he called out in the name of Hashem. The posuk doesn’t say that he returned to his humble abode. In fact, a study of the pesukim indicates that just the opposite was the case. The pesukim (13:3-5) which state that Avrohom returned to his previous home and mizbeach are followed by the posuk which recounts that, “Lot who traveled with Avrohom also had sheep, cattle and tents.”

The posuk’s silence on the subject of how Lot conducted himself seems to indicate and highlight the difference between the two men. Although Lot was blessed with physical wealth in return for staying with Avrohom, his behavior did not mimic those of his patron Avrohom.

It was then that his employees began quarreling with those of Avrohom, leading to the separation between the senior saintly rebbi and the junior talmid. Lot looked towards Sedom and the grass was greener on the other side. It beckoned and Lot responded.

If wealth attracts a person, he will find it hard to resist the temptation for money. If the glamour and glitz appeal to him, he will have a tough time turning his back on that world. If popularity is important to him, he risks succumbing to the will of the masses, even at the expense of his own values.

If the ‘good life’ attracts him, then it will be difficult to smash pagan idols of the time. It is only to someone as impeccably honest as Avrohom Avinu that G-d entrusts his blessings. Avrohom was far wealthier than Lot ever dreamed of becoming because he stayed loyal to his mizbeach and cared for others. The selfish people of Sedom wouldn’t share anything with anyone.

They ended up with nothing but eternal damnation. Avrohom and his offspring will forever be sealed with brocha, becha chosmin, as long as they remain loyal to what is true and good. They follow the laws of G-d and man; they take pains to ensure that they and their employees do not engage in devious, dubious, dishonest behavior. Their children are brought up and trained to distinguish right from wrong. They are socially responsible and loyal to a higher credo than the people around them. People who are deserving of the Divine brachos are not seduced by the blandishments of Sedom.

Avrohom Avinu taught that the grass really is greener on the other side - on our side. He defied conventional wisdom. He delved into the intricacies of this world and mastered the underlying truth of Creation and man’s purpose in this world. Once he discovered these truths, society’s delusions and icons held no appeal for him. He wouldn’t have his sheep graze in unfamiliar territory and he wouldn’t accept as much as a shoe-lace from the king of Sedom.

In our day as well, get rich quick schemes abound. There appear to be easy ways to make money, and although they involve not being entirely honest and scrupulous, some are enticed to make the attempt. The everyone-does-it excuse is also always available. There are plenty of ways to circumvent the halacha and the law in order to make money. The pressures are difficult to withstand. As children of Avrohom, we need to be reminded that our path is the better and greener one. The most rewarding and eternal blessings are reserved for those who know that all else is fleeting.