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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5766
Charitable Justice and Just Charity
As Hashem’s decision to destroy S’dom was nearly complete, He allowed Avraham to try to defend his neighbors and soften the pending Divine judgment against them. The Torah explains why Hashem saw it fit to involve Avraham in the matter. Avraham was one who commanded his household and descendents to “keep the way of Hashem to do charity and justice” (Bereishit 18:19). Let us investigate the nature of these attributes of doing charity and justice.
We find the same combination of attributes in regard to King David. “David would do justice and charity for all of his nation” (Shmuel II, 8:15). The gemara (Sanhedrin 6b) is puzzled by this combination, asking that where there is judgment, there is no charity, and where there is charity, there is no judgment. The gemara answers that the pasuk refers to judgment that employs compromise. Thus, the desire for compromise tempers the judgment process.
If we compare the p’sukim regarding Avraham and David, we will find a small, but perhaps significant difference. Regarding Avraham, the order is: charity first and justice second. In contrast, regarding David, justice precedes charity. In the few dozen places in Tanach where the combination appears, usually in regard to the behavior expected of a G-d fearing person, justice almost always comes first, following the David model. One of the notable exceptions is where the subject of the pasuk is Hashem. Hashem is described as, “He loves charity and justice; the kindness of Hashem fills the world” (Tehillim 33:5). (This pasuk is apparently the basis of the beracha, “melech ohev tzedakah u’mishpat.”) Indeed, Avraham is described as keeping the way of Hashem, which puts charity before judgment.
Let us now try to put the matter in perspective. David served as king and was required to judge between one person and another. His job was thus to make just decisions, which reflected the truth as to who deserved what. Even within this context, he realized the importance of having an element of charity (if the sides agreed) to make the judgment more palatable to the litigants and increase peaceful relations. Regarding Hashem and His “disciple,” Avraham, the idea is to do charity whenever possible. However, if one were to do only charity and not demand any accountability, the world would be out of control. Thus, the desire for charity must be tempered by an element of judgment.
S’dom and its surroundings had reached the point where judgment was needed to put an end to the spiraling moral deterioration. Hashem allowed Avraham to try to arrive at charity within a framework of justice. It is noteworthy that Avraham did not say, “They are without virtue, but please have mercy on them anyway.” Rather, he devised a judicial claim that it was unjust to destroy the cities if they contained a minimum of righteous inhabitants. When this claim proved untenable, even the charitable Avraham had no recourse but to accept Divine justice as Hashem proposed.
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