Righteous and Just


Identifying a single incident – or statement – that, in retrospect, changed the entire course of history, is one of the most exhilarating discoveries.

We have one such verse in this week’s Torah portion:

For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they will keep G-d’s way, to do righteousness and justice (Genesis 18:19).

Indeed, therein lays the secret of Abraham’s eternal success. As the sequence of the verses suggests: The previous verse states, Abraham is about to become a great and mighty nation, and through him all the nations of the world will be blessed. And the reason is given in the next sentence: For I know him, that… his children and his household will… do righteousness and justice. Abraham and his nation’s greatness and might are a result of their commitment to the just and righteous path.

This may be the first and earliest documented episode of humans adopting the most powerful moral mandate: To do what is right and just.

As benign and correct as this life choice resonates within us, the disturbing fact is that, despite Abraham’s commitment, the path of righteousness and justice would not come natural and easy to the human condition. It would take literally thousands of years for the idea to take hold and become the standard of virtue in the world at large. And even in today’s day and age, as recent events in history have shown us, it is still not a standard upheld in every region.

Up until all the recent upheavals and atrocities, living in our free world it was hard to imagine that institutionalized values of freedom, justices and righteousness were relatively new to our governments and institutions – merely a few centuries old. Before the 18th century nations were ruled by monarchs and despots, some of who may have been benevolent, but most were not and regardless, righteousness and justice was not the Divine right of the masses.

It was the American Revolution that embraced man’s Divine human rights, in its Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Reading this historical declaration and its appeal for “justice and magnanimity” and despair at those leaders “deaf to the voice of justice” provides us with an accurate depiction of the state of world affairs from the beginning of time. The ruling power was not justice and righteousness, but the people in control. From one end of the globe to the other, individuals ruled, often with tyranny and force, and their citizens were subject to their mercy. There were undoubtedly individuals throughout history that chose a path of peace, kindness and justice. From time to time there sprung up movements and life approaches that followed or were inspired by Abraham’s life, which helped plant the seeds of democracy. But these were exceptions, and they definitely did not create generations or nations that followed their personal philosophies.

So it’s quite remarkable to go back over 3700 years to the time when Abraham made his momentous move, and pioneered the path to keep G-d’s way, to do righteousness and justice.” And this was not merely his personal choice; this became the defining principle that would shape and permeate Abraham’s “children and household,” for generations to come.

It’s quite amazing when you think about it: G-d knew and trusted that.

It’s one thing to make a personal promise. But how many of us can be sure what our children and households would embrace? And not for one generation, but for over 90 generations, till this very day!

Easy it wasn’t. Indeed, this commitment to virtue cost many lives and caused much anguish. For thousands of years empire after empire persecuted those committed to an authority greater than theirs. Righteousness and justice had to be fought for, every step of the way.

Yet, Abraham’s “children and household” held on to the commitment. They maintained it and endured through their Egyptian slavery, through their suffering at the hands of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, and Romans. Their dedication to Abraham’s just path continued despite the hellish Crusades and Middle Ages, through the Inquisitions, expulsions and pogroms. Through the horrors of the Holocaust in the 20th Century. And unfortunately, through the battle with terrorism going on today.

Through all these nightmares of history Abraham’s “children and household” did not just hold up their commitment; they exported it and spread the light unto nations, even to those nations that tormented them.

A nation with such vigilance and fortitude deserves to become a great and mighty nation, and through him all the nations of the world will be blessed.

And indeed, who has prevailed? Not the tyrants, not the killers and persecutors. Not they and not their families have remained. The world has become a more righteous and just place. Many nations today are ruled by laws guaranteeing human rights, with freedoms unheard of just a few hundred years ago. Not every nation. But many. And Abraham’s “children and household” are here to tell the story. And we will continue to tell the story.

Many, many lessons can be gleaned from this ultimate story of history. Above all, it is the story of our own lives, or better yet, our own personal choices.

Today, we are not asked to pioneer a new path of justice and virtue. We stand on the shoulders of Abraham and his children and students. Yet, in our own way we are all faced with moral choices every moment of our lives. Each of us in our heart knows that the battle is not over. Despite our freedoms and all the great advances made over the millennia, we still are faced with our enemies. We are faced with antisemitism and hatred, with darkness and evil.

Abraham’s mandate is as important today as ever. And his persistence teaches us the power of one individual’s choice, how much it can accomplish.

Our turn in history has comes – will we be an Abraham? And how will we educate your “children and household?” Will we stand up for righteousness and justice? Will we lead by example?

I am confident that the answer is yes.


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15 years ago

I was just talking to my husband about this. I put it as the choice to be Avrahamian or a Haranian.

The point being: after the dispersion Hashem was not forgiving. You couldnt be a Noachide and be part of Hashems special club. You had to be Avraham. You couldnt get in by being a relative or even by having partial intent. You had to go all the way.

And we got into the million converts around the turn of the century who really had a hard time (because the Jews were about to get persecuted big time) and also the Jews that got led astray by Christianity. But I think in the end the question was Who are we really?.

What got me onto the Haranian was a teacher who scared us last Rosh Chodesh Elul by telling us that Hashem expects us to be Avraham and not Haran. Without her the concept would never have entered my mind in terms of the level of commitment that one needs in order to be a Jew.

Alex Goldring
15 years ago

Thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking essay. It was a gift in that I began thinking of
morality, and all its rivulets, as simply being what works. A lot of what you write about has the quality
of a superimposed judgment of right and wrong to it. When in fact what is right and moral is actually what
works. Morality is endemic to the fabric of workability.
In the long run, the less morality the less stability and permanence to a system lacking those principles. Unfortunately, workability can be misheard as that which produces quick results, but here we have an
example of a context which is consonant with the workable laws of the universe.
Abraham established a paradigm. He used, wittingly or otherwise, the physics of workability. One of the
elements of the spiritual periodic-table of the universe is the power of declaration (as you so aptly alluded to in
your piece.) We use, and have used, this tool at Sinai, every Friday night saying kiddush, under the chuppah etc… The concentrated power of a declaration is that it is transformational in nature. It shifts the paradigm, where what was before is now apprehended in a new way, and a new relationship is manifest.
Abraham took a stand, and by doing so created the conversation that you and I are invested in, as well as
those other nations that are his progeny. He declared a new and different relationship with the universe.
He understood that the virtues that he developed and embodied are grounded in Truth, which is synonymous
with what works. And, most importantly, he brought forth a new way of languaging it all.

15 years ago

Dear Rabbi
I do not believe so today time is beter than thousand years ago. Today every
where are seeing the gredy of human person. Everywhere in western worl media
laing, to prefer and boost the ugly politycal correctness. No truth no
justice, no humanity. We aproching to the Messiah era where will start the
war of Gog and MaGog.
G-d Bless You and all Chabad Staff and Members and all Jew in nthe world
especially in Eretz Yisrael.

12 years ago

No way the world today is anywhere near living just and right lives.

Sign of the times I guess.

12 years ago

You made me feel much better about the despots ruling our country now. It is easier to tolerate knowing that not only do we have a covenant but that we have prevailed throughout history and will prevail through time immemorial. You put it in historical perspective. Thank you.

Jacenty Domanski
12 years ago

But today the US and rest of the Western democratic powers are unjust, murderous, corrupted, with out mercy and cruel. Just the war of Gog and MaGog bring an end to them.

Esther Sarah Evans
12 years ago

Tehillim Perek 19 (Psalms, Chapter 19) says it all:
The Torah of HASHEM is perfect, resotring the soul; the testimony of HASHEM is trustworthy, making the simple one wise. The orderS of hASHEM are upright, gladdening the heart; the command of HASHEM is clear, enlightening the eyes. The fear of HASHEM is pure, enduring forever the judgments of HASHEM are true, altogether righteous. Anything that can make the simple like me wise has to be very special, and I think if more people would read this Tehillah, there would be less need to worry about justice, for we would be guided by it

12 years ago

Why did Avraham served his guests meat and milk together?
Why did only 2 angels proceed to Sodom?

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