Let us begin with a story…………
There was a woman who had a niece, the daughter of her sister. After her sister’s death, this woman took the young niece in to her home and raised her as if she were her own daughter. She shared her faith, and used her own money to send the niece to the best schools and even financed the niece’s business ventures when she grew up. The niece behaved in a shocking manner. She not only refuted the faith of her aunt, but often did things that publicly embarrassed her aunt. Yet when she got into trouble, it was always the aunt who would come to her rescue. Other people would question the aunt, asking why she continued to help the ungrateful woman who treated her so badly, yet the aunt never wavered in her support of the niece. When the still unmarried niece became pregnant, and gave birth to a child, the aunt took the child in and raise him as well. And through it all, the aunt prayed fervently for her niece and never gave up hope that one day she would change her ways, and become the woman of G-d she was created to be.
How many of us can honestly say that we could emulate the selfless behavior of this aunt? I’ll be honest, at some point, I think I would be inclined to say, “enough is enough!”, and leave her to her own demise.
And yet, we find in this week’s Torah portion, that Avraham had just such an ungrateful nephew, the not-so-righteous Lot. Avraham not only prayed fervently and boldly for Sodom in an effort to save his rotten apple of a nephew, he even went to war, risking his own life to save this kid. Why? Wouldn’t he have been justified in saying “enough is enough” and leaving Lot to his own demise? What did Avraham see in Lot, that we are unable to see?
We do not have an objective, Divine perspective on any situation. We do not fully understand the ultimate Divine plan or how a particular person or situation might fit into that plan. But maybe Avraham did. Maybe he realized that there was a messianic spark within his nephew Lot. Indeed, the Messiah would emerge from the line of Lot, through an incestuous relationship with his daughter no less.
The lesson I derive from all of this is that although I cannot always see another person’s ultimate value, and despite the fact that I might be ready to write someone off because of their bad behavior, I need to realize that Hashem may have a very important job for that person. And yet there is another important lesson I derived from the story of Avraham and Lot. Although Avraham may have realized the importance of Lot in Hashem’s plan, he also realized that it was not in his own best interest to associate with Lot’s bad behavior in the meantime. Therefore, they parted ways and no longer “hung out” together. We are extremely vulnerable to the influence of those we associate and spend our time with. If we see that another person’s behavior is consistently not what we would desire to emulate, it is probably wise to distance ourselves from their influence. Birds of a feather flock together. Misery loves company. However we say it, the message is ultimately that we need to be very selective of who we allow into our sphere of influence on a regular basis, because they WILL HAVE AN INFLUENCE, be it good or bad!
So, the challenge is to not be too quick to write others off, but to, none-the-less, use discernment concerning whom we choose to spend time with. Many people say they want to live a godly life, but their words show no evidence of fruition in their lives. It is not our job to judge these people, only to use wisdom and discernment. If you find yourself in the midst of gossip, slander, un-godly jokes or un-godly behaviors, then that is a tell-tale sign it is time to change your environment.
“For I (G-d) have loved him (Avraham), because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice, in order that Hashem might bring upon Avraham that which He had spoken to him.” (Bereishes 18:19)
Please note: the way of Hashem (derech Hashem) is doing charity and justice (tzedakah u’mishpat). To do charity is not just handing out food or money. Sforno to Bereishes 18:19 explains that charity is any act that helps the lost do teshuvah. “Avraham was prepared to be benevolent, even with the wicked, but not to the extent of ignoring the demands of justice toward those who refuse to repent……….the Sodom episode demonstrates the vital need for both tzdakah and mishpat.” Mishpat (justice) is designed to protect the innocent from evil influences.
It is difficult enough to stay focused on what truly matters in this world. I pray that each of us find a circle of friends that will be a positive, encouraging influence, and not an additional hindrance to our walk. And I also pray that we will be that positive, encouraging influence on those who associate with us. It is incumbent upon us to behave charitably with others, but we must also remember that when our environment is being contaminated by repetitive bad behavior, justice requires we also protect ourselves and others who may be influenced by such an undesirable influence, and we must part company.
“He who walks with the wise will become wise, but the companion of fools will suffer.” Mishlei 13:20
Be blessed and be a blessing,