In this week’s parsha, Vayeira, we learn about Avraham and his core character trait of kindness.
We learn that Avraham has just been circumcised three days prior and G-d had appeared to him in prophecy, yet when Avraham saw the three strangers approaching, he ran towards them and welcomed them to rest and eat by him. It is from Avraham that we learn about Hachnasat Orchim (hospitality to others).
Rabbi Frankel at Aish Center of Greater Washington explained today, that Avraham even interrupted his speaking with G-d in order to take care of the three men (later we learn they were angels) that approached because the purpose of the Torah is not to be just a rigid rule book of do’s and don’ts, but rather for us to emulate G-d in doing good. Hence, it was more important for Avraham to actually do good by these strangers than to speak with G-d. Action supersedes words!
The Rabbi spoke to the quote of H.L. Menken who said:
Morality is doing right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right.
However, as the Rabbi pointed out, in Judaism, we believe that the laws of the Torah are here to teach us how to act in real life. Therefore, it’s not just a book of laws, but a framework of how to actually live our life, (as my dear father used to always teach me). Moreover, while we follow the laws of the Torah as the basis and principle of what is right, we also have a conscience to guide us and help apply the laws of the Torah to the particular situation. For example, if G-d forbid someone is sick and needs to go to the hospital, we are permitted to break the laws of the Shabbat to take the person there to get help.
Therefore, I would say that for the Jewish people:
Religion is doing what you are told, unless it’s a matter of what’s right.
This is the case because even as we learn the Holy Torah as the framework for our life, Hashem gave each and every one of us a soul and breathed into us “the breath of life” giving us the ability to emulate Him and choose good over evil as we need to apply the Torah to everyday decisions.
The Rabbi asked why did Hashem who is omnipotent even need to create us? And he answered because in G-d being the the ultimate good, He “had to create us”—this in essence being the ultimate expression of good by sharing that goodness with us to learn and be good as well. In short, what could be a greater good than extending that opportunity to be be good to others.
Thinking about this, I realized this even goes perhaps a step further. Not only do we emulate G-d in being good and kind to others, but just like G-d created us to extend His goodness, so too He gave us the ability to emulate Him even in this way by having our own children and extending to them the Torah teachings and abilities to actually do good in this world.
Like our forefather, my Hebrew name is Avraham, and for me personally, this has been a critical life lesson: learning to see challenges as opportunities to learn, grow, and consistently be a person that tries to do what is right even when it is hard or the lines seem to be grey. In the end, I believe that G-d put us in this world in order for us to choose good over evil and demonstrate kindness to others. With the Torah as our blueprint, and Avraham, our forefather, as our role model, we must apply the great teachings of the Torah and always strive to act as a proper mensch!