The Highest Value Is Worth Protecting

This is a wonderful time of the year, when parashas hashavua gives us a chance to become reacquainted with our Avos, the foundations of Am Yisrael. It doesn’t matter how old we are, and how many times we’ve learned sefer Bereishis before; we always discover some new, exciting insight into their humanity and their greatness, and that challenges us to emulate them in keeping with the dictum, “Maaseh Avos siman l’banim.”

In this week’s parashah, when Hashem tells Avraham that Sarah “laughed” upon hearing the news that she would have a baby at her advanced age, He leaves out the fact that she thought her husband was too old to have a child. Why? For the sake of peace, says Rashi.

Harav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, asks why was it necessary to hide the truth from Avraham? After all, he knew he was old. When Hashem revealed to him at the end of last week’s parashah that he would have a son in a year, Avraham thought to himself, “Can a 100-year-old man have a child?” (17:17). So why would he take offense at Sarah’s thinking the same thing?

Further, when the three angels in the guise of men enter Avraham’s tent, they ask him, “Where is Sarah, your wife?” Rashi says they knew where she was, but they asked in order to get Avraham to acknowledge that she was out of sight, in the tent, in order to elevate her status in his eyes.

Again, asks Harav Shmulevitz, considering that we’re talking about Avraham and Sarah, is this really necessary?

Finally, in Parashas Vayeitzei, Rochel Imeinu has a baby and names him Yosef because “asaf Elokim es cherpasi — Hashem has taken away my disgrace.” Rashi brings the famous aggadah that when a woman is childless she has no one on whom to blame things. But once she has a child, she can blame him when her husband asks who broke the dish or who finished the figs.

Harav Shmulevitz asks: Is it conceivable that Rochel Imeinu is concerned that Yaakov Avinu, who worked day and night for 14 years in order to marry her, would really get upset with her over a broken dish? And even if he would, is this what should be on the mind of a woman who said, “Give me children, otherwise I am dead?” On such a momentous day, she’s thinking about having someone to blame for finishing the last brownie?

Harav Shmulevitz answers all these questions with one fundamental understanding. Peace, whether in the home or in the beis medrash or the community at large, is such a supreme value that one must take into account anything that might possibly disrupt it, no matter how farfetched.

Hashem hides the full truth from Avraham in order to prevent the remotest possibility of even the slightest resentment that might be created by Avraham hearing that his wife thought he was old. That’s how valuable shalom is and how far we must go to prevent its being undermined.

Rochel’s appreciating a child as a means of preventing any possible discord — even a scintilla of resentment — stems from the high value that our Avos place on peace.

And the angels asked a question to bring Avraham’s attention to Sarah’s modesty not because he needed a reminder, but because one cannot appreciate another enough. There is always a need to contemplate the merit and the good qualities of a wife, a rebbi, a boss, a neighbor.

In revealing these particular episodes in the life of our Avos, the Torah is teaching us about the paramount importance of shalom and how far we have to go to preserve and enhance it.

Harav Shmulevitz points out that shalom, in the fullest sense, is a gift that Hashem gives exclusively to Am Yisrael. The brachah for shalom that we receive via the kohanim isn’t just “V’yasem lecha shalom.” It is preceded by “Yisa Hashem panav eilecha” — indicating how precious and exclusive a gift it is.

And what is the main quality that leads to peace among ourselves? Harav Shmulevitz answers that it is treating one another with respect. When Avraham Avinu looked up and saw the three angels/men, the Midrash says that he was looking at how they treated one another. And when he saw that they treated one another with respect, he concluded that they were proper people.

Furthermore, when the Mishnah in Avos asks “Who is an honorable person?” the answer isn’t “the smartest person” or “the biggest tzaddik.” It is “one who is mechabed the briyos — who knows how to treat people.”

We get into trouble in our homes, workplaces and communities when we lose clarity on what are core Torah values. Shalom is of paramount importance. We must go to any lengths to prevent machlokes and to enhance our respect for one another.

It’s easy for us to lose our way in a Western, competitive society that respects success — whether in finances, or, l’havdil, in learning — above all else.

That’s why we so desperately need to reconnect with our Avos and hear their message, loud and clear.