Parashas Vayeira

This week’s parashah relates many events, one of which is the destruction of Sodom. Before destroying Sodom, Hashem told Avraham of His plans to do so. He said to Himself, so to speak (Bereishis 18:17-19): “Shall I conceal from Avraham what I am going to do? But Avraham is firmly destined to become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the world will be blessed through him. For it is known to Me regarding him – in order that he command his children and his household to follow him, that they observe Hashem’s way, to charity and justice, in order that Hashem may bring upon Avraham what He had spoken regarding him.” Here, we have translated the third verse according to Onkelos, who renders the phrase ki yedativ as for it is known to Me regarding him. Rashi finds this rendering problematic, noting that the verse does not flow smoothly this way – “for it is known to Me” does not seem to fit with “in order that.” Rashi therefore renders ki yedativ as for I have cherished him. The Maggid takes an alternative approach, explaining the passage in a way that makes Onkelos’s rendering very sensible.
If we think closely about the discussion between Hashem and Avraham about Sodom, a glaring question comes to mind: Why didn’t Avraham turn his attention to the men of Sodom beforehand and admonish them for their evil ways, in order to lead them to the proper path? We might argue that the men of Sodom would not have accepted his rebuke, but a Gemara passage in Shabbos 55a shows that this is no answer. The Gemara teaches that when a person sees someone acting improperly, he must admonish him, even if suspects that the offender will not accept the rebuke. Although Hashem may know for sure that the offender will not accept the rebuke, the observer cannot be certain. Thus, it would seem that Avraham ought to have been punished for not admonishing the men of Sodom. We suggest that Hashem’s statement “For it is known to Me …” is meant to show that Avraham in fact acted properly.
In Yevamos 65b, the Gemara teaches that just as it is a mitzvah to make a statement that will be listened to, so, too, it is a mitzvah not to make a statement that will not be listened to. R. Abba says that it is in fact an obligation not to do so, basing this ruling on a verse (Mishlei 9:8): “Do not rebuke the scorner, lest he come to hate you; rebuke the wise man, and he shall love you.” Now, why does do the Sages take such a strong position against making a statement that will not be listened to? And why did R. Abba quote the entire verse from Mishlei, when seemingly it would have been enough for him to quote just the first half? Furthermore, why did Shlomo HaMelech, the author of the verse, even have to tell us to “rebuke the wise man,” given that it is an explicit Torah mitzvah to rebuke our fellow men (Vayikra 19:17)?
We can answer these questions by explaining Shlomo’s statement as general advice about rebuke: To be effective in giving rebuke, and have wise men accept what you tell them, you must carefully refrain from rebuking scorners. If you rebuke scorners, they will ridicule you, and you will end up looking like a fool. Everyone will lose respect for you, and even people of wisdom will reject what you say. But if you are cautious in dispensing rebuke, you will respected, and people of wisdom will value your guidance and follow it. They will say to themselves: “Who can dare to ignore the words of this honorable man?” In short, Shlomo is saying that if you avoid rebuking scorners and making yourself a target of invective, then you will be able to rebuke the wise man effectively, and he will love you for your counsel. Thus, our Sages are quite on the mark in teaching that just as it is a mitzvah to make a statement that will be listened to, so, too, it is a mitzvah not to make a statement that will not be listened to. For the one depends on the other – only by refraining from making statements that will not be listened to will you be in a position to make statements that will be listened to.
We can now see clearly that Avraham acted properly in not offering the men of Sodom any rebuke. Had he had good reason to believe that they would hear him out respectfully, it would have been his duty to rebuke them, even if they were unlikely to accept his view. But the men of Sodom were scorners, and so, had he rebuked them, they would have ridiculed him, and his honor would have been destroyed. It was crucial for Avraham to preseve his honor, so that he would have a firm hand in keeping his children and household on the proper path. When Hashem said that “it is known to Me regarding him,” He was saying He knew that Avraham’s silence toward the men of Sodom was a carefully considered choice with a sound reason – “in order that he command his children and his household to follow him, that they observe Hashem’s way.” This point is emphasized by the fact that the verse, in expressing the notion of observing Hashem’s way, uses the past tense verb form v’shamru rather than the future tense form v’yishmeru. Because Avraham avoided rebuking the men of Sodom, he retained the level of honor necessary to guide the members of his household with a firm hand, and they therefore were constantly committed to observing Hashem’s way.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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