In our parasha , God recognizes Abraham's dedication to the people of the world and bringing them closer to God- Hashem by changing his name. God changes his name – from Abram to Abraham .This change represented his new status, as no longer only being the Father of Aram, but becoming the Father of a multitude of nations. Abraham served God through the characteristic trait of 'chesed', generosity, acts of hospitality and kindness, building caring communities of God fearing people. He ' touched their ' hearts and souls ' and the 'souls he made in Haran ' decided to join him on the journey where God would lead him. Abraham both loved and believed in the potential of people to change, no matter how evil were their ways. He prayed and pleaded on behalf of the people of Sodom who faced destruction. He believed a righteous community of 10 people could impact positively on a whole city whose inhabitants were wicked and evil. By being ' upright in his ways = ya'shar, he showed honor and respect to all people and at the same time 'hated evil'. People would change their ways if he could make a personal connection with them, show that he loved them and cared for them and then help them connect to God and His ways. Abraham's and the other fathers – Isaac and Jacob are called – y'sharim, the upright ones because of their personal interactions = halichot olam with people and for this reason the book of Genesis = Be'reishit is called Sefer ha'yashar – the book of the 'upright '.
In our parasha there are 2 incidents where Abraham is criticized for lacking faith in God. The first incident is the meeting between the king of Sodom and Abraham to deal with the spoils of the war – the booty and prisoners after Abraham's victory in the war between the kings of Canaan. The king of Sodom offers Abraham to take the booty-money and he, the king will get back his subjects. Abraham refuses the offer - he does not want any personal gain – both no booty-money and no prisoners. He does not want the King of Sodom to feel and say that it is he and not God that has made Abraham rich. Because Abraham refused to take the prisoners, he is criticized for preventing them from becoming converts and entering beneath the wings of the Shechinah = Divine presence.
The second incident is Abraham questioning and doubting God's promise that his descendants will inherit the land of Israel. He asked how can I know that my descendants will be worthy of inheriting the land of Israel? As a result, to fix and repair this minute flaw of faith at the 'root and source ' of the nation's faith, the descendants of Abraham would be exiled and be slaves in Egypt.
Abraham's lack of faith seems to be more about a lack of faith in people - the prisoners= subjects of the king of Sodom to connect to God and the descendants of Abraham to repent and do Teshuva and reconnect to God rather than a lack of faith in God. When one lacks faith in man one is limiting the potential belief in God in the world, declaring that God can only connect with certain and a limited amount of people. One also ignores the answer that God gave to Abraham - ' your descendants will be worthy of inheriting the land of Israel because I have given them sacrifices to help them repent and atone for their sins. In fact, the covenant - brit that God made with Abraham included sacrifices similar to ones offered on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. One is also lacking faith in God if one does not have faith in people - that God created people who have been made in his image that can do Teshuva and repent.
Abraham has proved to be the example and epitome of ' loving man and believing in mankind.' So what went wrong? The Dalai Lama has an insightful saying - people ' Love Money and Use People, instead they should Love People and Use Money. The King of Sodom offered Abraham a deal – take the money and I will take the people. Abraham replied that he did not love money or use people – so he refused, all personal gain - taking no money and no people. Instead he should have answered. I don't love money and don't use people – I love people and believe in their ability to do Teshuva – repent and connect with God. I, as the victor in this war am going to exercise my rights and keep the people so I can invest in them and contribute to their lives by bringing them close to God.
The exile and redemption from Egypt fixed and repaired this flaw. Although Moses initialy showed that he lacked a belief in the Israelites to be deserving of redemption, the redemption process restored a love for man and a belief that man could do Teshuva and repent ' even if they had reached the 49th level of impurity and contamination. It also enabled them also to accept and embrace those Egyptians who wanted to join the Israelites and so give them the opportunity to enter under the wings of the Shechinah- Divine presence and become close to God . The laws of loving converts, inviting non-Jewish residents to participate in the Temple service and the ' Hakhel ' ceremony are examples of ways to make amends and rectifying the minute mistakes and flaws in Abraham's behavior towards the prisoners of war.
When it comes to our children and students we have to unconditionally love and accept them and believe that they have a place close to God and the ability to connect to God, holiness , the Torah and Mitzvoth. Too often kids get the feeling and impression that it is only the outstanding students, the ones that are well behaved, love to learn and have good concentration and thoughts when praying are the only ones that have a place near God and are able to connect to him. All kids need to feel that they are worthy of God's attention, love and connection. We have to emulate Abraham who believed that people don't need punishment but to experience the beauty of Judaism, feel accepted and appreciated and live in a caring community. Parents and teachers who focus on punishment have essentially given up on their kids and students. What these kids and students need is help and have concerned parents and teachers who care about meeting their needs for their emotional, religious development etc. The lesson of Abraham – love and believe in people means that people and especially children are less interested in how much we know but how much we care about them . If we believe in our children , we will love them and if we truly love them, we will believe in them.