This Week in Torah
Shabbat Hayyei Sarah 5774
I Kings 1:1-13
Honest Abe Repairs His World
Progressive Judaism is correctly known for its emphasis on Tikkun Olam – Repairing the World. In North America, our movement gets credit for well over a half-century of leadership in social justice activism by making Jeremiah’s call for us to seek the peace of our cities (29:7) central to our Jewish practice. Abraham’s intercession on behalf of the denizens of Sodom and Gomorrah is correctly taken as an example of our faith’s commitment to the welfare of people beyond our own communal boundaries.
In this week’s parasha, we see another aspect of Abraham’s t’zdeikut (righteousness) as he engages in tikkun olam, not for the whole world, but rather in his micro-universe.
Under the strain of Sarah’s sudden passing, Abraham is faced with the urgent task of finding a burial place for his wife. In the context of the Patriarchal/Matriarchal narratives, grabbing a piece of land for wells, pasture or burial is hardly unknown. Even at this difficult moment, Abraham chooses an honest path that brings social justice not to all of Canaan but to his little corner of The Land. He does so by refusing Ephron the Hittite’s offer of the land for nothing. One way of understanding the text is that Ephron does not want to take advantage of Abraham’s predicament to make money and Abraham does not want to use his personal loss in order to obtain an unfair financial gain. Abraham appears in front of the townspeople as, with full honesty and transparency, he carefully weighs out the full price of the cave and its surrounding field.
Abraham’s faithful dealing with his servant is an example of repairing the world of an employee, someone who has come under his authority. Abraham gives his major domo a daunting task – to go out and find a wife for Isaac. The servant, concerned and confused, seeks a clarification of his assignment; “what if the woman won’t come back with me”. A fair and good manager, Abraham clarifies his instructions and allays the servant’s fears by explaining the conditional nature of the task and assuring him that if it does not work out “you shall be clear of your oath.”
Finally, Abraham acknowledges and provides for the economic wellbeing of his children with Keturah, his second full wife, making up, perhaps, for his apparent error in casting Ishmael and his mother Hagar out into the wilderness.
The mystics tell us that Abraham knew the whole Torah, including “You shall love your neighbor… “ which means – before you go out to fix the whole universe take care of those who are right in front of you and whose lives touch most immediately to yours. In all three relationships, with family, an employee and a co-equal in business, Abraham demonstrates the importance of tikkun olam katan – repairing the small worlds wherein we dwell and upon which we can have great, meaningful, positive influence. It is good to be “a light to the nations” but only after illuminating your own neighborhood.
Rabbi Steve Denker
This week Rabbi Denker’s D’var Torah was distributed worldwide on behalf of the Israel Religious Action Center.