Rabbi Daniel Stein shared a teaching with his congregation that I want to share with you.
I wanted to share an idea that especially relevant to the period of uncertainty in which we find ourselves.
In The Beginning of Wisdom (2006), University of Chicago ethicist Leon Kass puts forward a critical claim about the book of Genesis: unlike later sections of the Torah, which explicitly put forward right conduct and behavior in terms of law, Genesis asks the reader to discern moral actions from the deeds of our ancestors. We learn from Adam, Even, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and the whole cast of characters what it means to lead an ethical life. Reflecting on the Interactions of God and Abraham at the trial of Sodom and Gomorrah, which we read this week, Kass develops an idea that is speaks to our current moment:
“Abraham, the founder of a great nation, must do righteousness and justice, and command his children after him to do likewise, for only in this way can Abraham bring the Lord's righteous ways to the entire world, and thus be a blessing to all nations of the earth. Although he has shown himself to be personally righteous, Abraham, because he is to be a political founder, needs also some instruction in political justice, that is, in justice regarding whole communities—cities or nations. God, the teacher, not only wants Abraham, the student, to know about the judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah; he also wants him to understand its rightness. More importantly, God also intends that Abraham share responsibility for the punishment as a result of his participation in the judgment. To this conversation, which is revealed to be far more than merely a master class in political science, Abraham is become God's partner, as it were, in executing political justice....
For Abraham, the lesson could not be more pointed: his excessive preoccupation with God's personal promise, with his own merit and its reward—that is, with personal justice—is in fact odds with the fulfillment of the purpose of God's promise that he become a great nation, steeped in righteousness and doing justice, to become a blessing to all others. The implication could not be plainer: because a community once founded will stand or fall together, and because one man's virtue is not sufficient, there is urgent need for education and transmission, beginning with a well-ordered house and with political measures to secure justice in the community and this lesson could not be timelier.”