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Parshas Vayera - You Can, or You Can - Which One Is It?                       16 Cheshvan 5780

11/14/19 12:40:59


The three-year lease on my car is due to expire in the next few weeks. I am once again faced with questions that I faced three years ago, deciding how I should go about my next means of transportation. Three years ago, my car basically stopped working and was not worth fixing; the car had no notable value. In order to make a long story short, I decided to get a new car rather than a pre-owned or, as they used call it, a used car. Spending the entire day at the dealership, I had to decide whether to buy a new car and finance it or to try something that I’d never done before, to lease it.

Anyone who has had the privilege of dealing with a car salesperson knows how frustrating it is to speak with someone who keeps reminding you that he is helping you to get the best deal possible. For those who have never had this wonderful opportunity, let me give you a quick synopsis. After reassuring me over a dozen times that he is going to take really good care of me, the salesperson asked, “What am I looking for?” So, we reviewed the type of car and features I’d like, and then came the pop question, “What can I afford?” We went over the numbers, and eventually, after waiting a good amount of time, I was told that the vehicle I want could not be had for the amount I wanted to spend. More time went by and I was blandly told that it was not possible to ‘give’ the car away for the price I wanted to spend, basically declaring that they would be ‘losing money on the deal’. Really?! Then there was the time I was ‘hondling’ with the salesperson and, as negotiations were breaking up, the manager was brought in ‘to see what he could do’ to make the deal work. As I walked out the door, the manager said to me, “What if I can close the deal for this price?” I said I’d think about it and then returned a little while later. I said to the manger, “O.K, I can do it for that price.” I thought to myself that now, finally we’ll have a done deal and be out of there in no time with my new car.” SCREEEEEEECH! STOP! He says to me, (the chutzpah) “I did not say I can do it for this price; all I said was if I can give it to you for this price, would it work?” At that point, I turned around went to the other dealership and completed an agreement there. That slight nuance of the word can make or breaks the entire negotiation.

While the power of suggestion is often deceiving, as described above, but it can also work as a measure for promoting something positive, useful and helpful. A statement or question can be understood from opposite perspectives - from good to bad or from right to wrong. *Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter from Slobodka, depicts the scenario between Avraham and the city of Sodom. Avraham Avinu was the foundation of Chessed (Kindness) in the world; Sodom, the opposite of everything Avraham stood for, was his adversary. The people of Sodom were the the epitome of callousness and rudeness sprinkled liberally with antipathy. They intentionally intensified their disservice to their neighbors and to each other.. Through their wickedness evil actions, they stood in complete opposition to Avraham. All the goodness that Avraham planted in the world was uprooted by the Sodomites and Amorites. One might conclude that if God considered getting rid of Sodom, the nemesis of Avraham, Avraham would be ecstatic!

Let’s look at the wording and language Avraham uses when speaking to Hashem:

In this week’s parshas Vayera the Torah states in 18:22-24: "ויפנו משם האנשים וילכו סדומה, ואברהם עודנו עמד לפני השם. ויגש אברהם ויאמר, האף תספה צדיק עם רשע. אולי יש חמשים צדיקם בתוך העיר האף תספה ולא תשא למקום למען חמשים הצדיקם אשר בקרבה" :: : “The men turned from where they were, and headed toward Sodom; Avraham was still standing before God. He came forward and said, ‘Will you actually wipe out the innocent together with the guilty? Suppose there are fifty innocent people in the city. Would You still destroy it, and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty-good people inside?’ Avraham’s question to God - will you actually wipe out the innocent with the guilty - is simply understood that the righteous did nothing wrong. Why do they deserve to die with the others? Why should there be collateral damage and punishment? When the angels left, Avraham stood in front of God. Would he have davened that the wicked should be wiped out and the Tzadikim should be left unscathed? If Avraham had done that then he would have been no better than the people of Sodom. Rather, he stood in front of Hashem and prayed not to destroy the wicked so the righteous will remain, but, on the contrary, to daven that because there are possibly fifty righteous people, Hashem would not destroy anyone – not the wicked and not the righteous. Avraham remained truthful to his beliefs and the to Torah and Mesorah of goodness. He did not pray for the downfall of Sodom, but looked instead to the strength of the good people so as to give the wicked the opportunity too change their ways from bad to good and therefore to survive.

The Amidah that Avraham had by standing in front of Hashem is the Amidah that we have today - to bring more goodness and to not necessarily destroy the people who do bad. Instead, we daven for them to change their ways. Avraham was asking how can you, God, wipe out the innocent with the guilty? Change the ‘how can’ to ‘can you’ really destroy the wicked if you have Tzadikim along with them? The answer, of course, would be no. Avraham rhetorically expressed that not only are You, God, not going to destroy the righteous people by exclaiming ‘how can you’ but stating that You, God, can save the evil because of the good. The Rokeach explained that האף תספה is not a language of anger but rather an expression of bewilderment and surprise. Avraham, through prayer, was able to change God’s disposition of Din/Judgment to Rachamim/Mercy. That is the power of Tefilla.

When we are confronted with a challenge and we ask ourselves ‘can we’ the answer is ‘we can’. It all depends upon our attitude. If we learn from Avraham that Chessed overcomes the evil even of Sodom, we ‘can’ change a situation regarding we view such challenges and direct our questions and prayers accordingly.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel (1849 Russia – 1927 in the British Mandate of Palestine), also known as Nota Hirsch or Natan Tzvi Finkel, was an influential leader of Orthodox Judaism in Eastern Europe and founder of the Slabodka Yeshiva, in the town of Vilijampolė (a suburb of Kaunas). He is also known by the Yiddish appellation der Alter ("the Elder") and as the Alter of Slabodka. Many of his pupils became major leaders of Orthodox Judaism in the USA and Israel.

*Not to be confused with Nosson Tzvi Finkel of the Mir.

Wed, August 12 2020 22 Av 5780