Abraham, Tzedaka & Mishpat

Winter must be coming, which means an invisible hand turned on the central heating system in the building. It’s finally time to get a thin summer dress, and that box to wipe the sweat off my face.

Some Torah – סם תורה
What was so bad about the People of Sodom?
The Gemara, in this week’s daf yomi, tells us the People of Sodom are among those who have no share in the world to come. Why? Here’s one story (translation from sefaria.org):
דעבר במברא יהיב ארבעה זוזי דעבר במיא יהיב תמני זוזי זימנא חדא אתא ההוא כובס איקלע להתם אמרו ליה הב ד’ זוזי אמר להו אנא במיא עברי אמרו ליה א”כ הב תמניא דעברת במיא לא יהיב פדיוהו אתא לקמיה דדיינא א”ל הב ליה אגרא דשקיל לך דמא ותמניא זוזי דעברת במיא
And they instituted an ordinance: One who crossed the river on a ferry gives four dinars, and one who crossed the river in the water gives eight dinars. One time a certain launderer came and arrived there. The people of Sodom said to him: Give four dinars as payment for the ferry. He said to them: I crossed in the water. They said to him: If so, give eight dinars, as you crossed in the water (i.e. there was no way to cross without paying, and the poor people who walked in the water trying to save on the ferry, had to pay double) . He did not give the payment, and they struck him and wounded him. He came before the judge to seek compensation. The judge said to him: Give your assailant a fee, as he let your blood (bloodletting was a way of healing people), and eight dinars, as you crossed the river in the water…
And hence the expression —- “Sodom Bed”, a system to stretch or chop another person so that, regardless of their will and purpose, they can fit in someone else’s rigid “bed”. Of course, this stood in direct contrast to Abraham, who tried to care for the specific needs of each person he chanced upon.
Why did G-d choose Abraham? It brings to mind the famous “Jew-ku” (Jewish haiku):

How odd
of G-d
to choose
the Jews;
It was not odd;
The Jews – choose G-d.

There are many stories but perhaps only one verse (Genesis 18:19):

כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו, לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת-בָּנָיו וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו, וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ ה’, לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט–לְמַעַן, הָבִיא ה’ עַל-אַבְרָהָם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר, עָלָיו. For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.’
G-d here is speaking to an unseen audience (maybe us) as if thinking out loud, and realizing that talking with Abraham must happen asap, so Abraham will know what’s coming on Sodon and Gamora. Why Abraham? Why tell him? What’s so special about him?
“For I have known him….”
Abraham is the one who not only practices but teaches his household and future generations so they “guard the way of Hashem to do tzedaka and mishpat…”
Tzedaka (erroneously translated as “charity”) is usually related to the quality of chesed, kindness, while mishpat is the quality of justice. What we usually think of as our strong hand (right) is instructed with a “softer” quality while the left hand is instructed to be harsh, as if harshness needs to be weakened. And yet, both are there, as equals. How is it possible to do both? Yes. But it’s not even about the consistent doing. It’s about teaching, guarding, dealing with this particular road, and not giving up on either.
There is a midrash that Abraham kept the Torah before it was given. How do we understand this? Perhaps here: Abraham was able to hold – teach and guard – two conflicting divine ideas at the same time, not let go of either, and not give up on both. For a human being, that might be the closest to walking in G-d’s path.

Shabbat Shalom.


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2 Responses to Abraham, Tzedaka & Mishpat

  1. Not only practices but teaches his household.. wish we all did that.

  2. Sacha says:

    Thank you for this. I was searching for the word mishpat as the Lord spoke to me about this word and I’m searching for meaning.

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