THE WEST WOOD VILLAGE SYNAGOGUE
Rabbi Abner Weiss’ Weekly Torah Teaching
Dr. Abner Weiss, Rabbi
Rabbi Abner Weiss’ Weekly Torah Teaching
Parashat Va-Yera 5771/2010
Dealing With Defeat
Ve– Avraham shav limkomo “And Abraham returned to his place (Genesis 18:33).
Our text takes up the narrative of Abraham’s spiritual journey following his encounter with God prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Abraham had been the quintessentially obedient servant of God, answering His call, doing His bidding without reservations. He had uprooted himself from everything that had been familiar, to undertake an undefined mission in a foreign country, whose people spoke a different language, practiced religion differently, and held values from his. In an audacious demonstration of caring and commitment, he had participated in a multi-.national armed conflict, motivated primarily by his desire to rescue Lot, who had been taken captive. Not withstanding his significant contribution to the victorious outcome of the war, he had refused to sully his reputation for altruism by accepting the spoils of war for himself. God had instructed him to be a blessing [“And thou shall be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2)], and he had become a blessing in every way.
Then comes the news of the Divine intention of destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the unspeakable corruption of their inhabitants. Characteristically, Abraham, the personification of loving kindness, is horrified by the huge, threatened loss of life. With almost unbelievable chutzpah, God’s servant challenges God Himself: “To do such a thing is sacrilegious, to kill the righteous together with the wicked so that the righteous and the wicked will suffer the same fate. How can you do so sacrilegious an act! Shall the Judge of the whole earth not do justly?” (Genesis 18:25). But Abraham’s intervention is for naught. God is unconvinced by his pleas. With the exception of Lot and his two daughters, all the inhabitants of the cities perish. The servant of God has, as it were, been defeated by God.
How does Abraham deal with defeat? Ve– Avraham shav limkomo “And Abraham returned to his place (Genesis 18:33). According to the sages, mekomo can also mean “ to his God”. Indeed, the designation of God as “Makom” is usually in the context of our search for connection with the Divine when we have suffered disappointment and loss. Mourners are comforted with the blessing “May the Lord [Ha-Makom} comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. The Passover Haggadah, recalling the spiritual alienation of the broken, dehumanized Hebrew slave masses, and God’s intervention on their behalf in their demoralized condition, declares: “Blessed be the Lord [ Ha-Makom] blessed is He”. This is precisely the meaning of our text- Ve– Avraham shav limkomo “And Abraham returned to his place (Genesis 18:33). Despite his disappointment and defeat, Abraham remains steadfast in his faith, resuming his relationship with God as it had been before the Divine rebuff. Once again, he prayed as he had always prayed.
Everyone has suffered disappointment, loss and defeat. Our lives are punctuated as much by tragedy as by triumph. We have dreams unrealized, hope frustrated, love lost, trust betrayed, accomplishments denigrated and dignity stripped away. How do we deal with defeat?
The natural reaction to failure is despair. But despair, if unchecked by optimism can spiral into ever-darker depths of depression. Abraham has taught us that the human spirit is resilient, capable of lifting us up when we are down--if only we dare to dream again. Ve– Avraham shav limkomo . Can we find the strength to return to where we were, to reclaim our faith, to reconnect with God, even when we feel alienated and rejected?
We often feel forsaken, beating our fists against the heavens, crying out :”God, why me? Why have You abandoned me? Did I really behave badly enough to deserve this great loss, this huge defeat? Why have I been singled out for such radical rejection? “ Our cry of despair seems all too reasonable, but loss of faith only makes matters worse. Abraham’s response to defeat by God was not self-pity. He did not attempt to do God’s arithmetic or to understand the divine calculus, because nobody can.
Ve– Avraham shav limkomo . Can we find the courage to follow Abraham’s example? I believe that this Torah teaching tells us that we can. Abraham models a path for each and every one of us whenever we feel abandoned and rejected.
Try it. It works.