Parshas Lech Lecha
The Kindness Factor
Kindness is gentle. Faith is fierce. Kindness is soft. Faith is
inflexible. Kindness is accommodating. Faith is dogmatic. Does
this mean that a person cannot be kind and faithful at the same
time. Of course not. A person can certainly be kind-hearted to
other people yet rigidly faithful in his own beliefs. Nonetheless,
these two characteristics tap into distinctly different parts of the
And yet, in this week’s Torah portion we find a strange paradox.
Abraham, the first patriarch of the Jewish people, is introduced as the
paragon of faith. In a world seething with idolatry, Abraham sees
through the myth and the nonsense and recognizes the one and only
eternal omnipotent Creator. With extraordinary faith, he follows
Hashem’s commands enthusiastically and without question. He
becomes the ultimate man of faith, the perfect role model for all future
At the same time, Abraham emerges from the pages of the Torah
as a man oif incredible kindness. Amazingly, he even begs leave from a
divine encounter to run after three ragged dusty travelers and invite
them into his home. There is no greater role model for kindness and
hospitality than Abraham in all the history of the world.
Is it merely a coincidence that the same person achieved the
ultimate levels of kindness and faith, these two widely disparate virtues?
Or is there indeed some connection between the two?
Let us reflect for a moment on a rather intriguing question. For
twenty generations before Abraham, idolatry had held the world in an
iron grip. No voice of reason declared the unity of the Master of the
Universe until Abraham. Why was this so? Were there no intelligent
people among the millions who passed through the world during this
time? Was there no one clever enough to discern the utter foolishness
of the idolatrous cults?
Quite likely, there were considerably more than a few people
capable of recognizing the Creator in the centuries before Abraham.
Why didn’t they? Because they preferred not to think about it.
Idolatry demanded a considerable amount of obeisance from
people, but it also allowed them unlimited license. The idolatrous cults
espoused no systems of morality. They did not encourage selfimprovement
and the striving for transcendent spirituality. Instead, they
allowed, and even encouraged, the indulgence of every carnal impulse.
The people of those times were steeped in greed and all sorts of
gratification, and they had little interest in ideologies that would
restrict their pleasures.
Why then was Abraham able to escape this mold? Because his
innate kindness and compassion led him to rise above base egotism.
Because he was able to look beyond himself, he recognized the truth of
the universe. It was his kindness that led him to faith.
A young man from a religious family strayed and eventually
abandoned his religion altogether. His family persuaded him to discuss
his newly chosen way of life with a certain great sage.
“Tell me, young man,” said the sage. “Why did you abandon the
ways of your forefathers?”
“Because they didn’t make sense,” the young man replied, and he
went on to list numerous questions and arguments.
The sage listened gravely and nodded from time to time. “Very
interesting,” he said. “You know, of course, that it’s not the
first time we’ve heard these questions. When did you first think about
“Well,” said the young man, fidgeting. “In the last year or two.”
“When you discovered the outside world?” asked the sage.
“Yes,” the young man replied, his voice barely audible.
“You are an intelligent young fellow,” said the sage. “Yet you didn’t
have these question until recently. You know why? Because you had no
need for them. But now that you see what kind of opportunities await
you out there, you needed these questions to set you free.”
In our own lives, contemporary society constantly presents us with
all sorts of distractions and temptations which can easily lead us away
from the pure path of Judaism. In these circumstances, it is easy to
rationalize, to tell ourselves that the Torah is being unnecessarily
stringent in certain things and that a little bit of this and just a wee
bit of that cannot really do any harm. But is it truly our rationalism
Or is it perhaps our wants and desires? Only when we rise above our
self interest can we expect to recognize the true meaning of life.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.