12 Oct LECH LECHA: DIGNITY & RESPECT
In Parashat Lech-Lecha, Hashem presents to Avraham Avinu the mitzvah of berit mila. He begins by making the following pronouncement: ךתא†יתירב†≠הנה†ינא†– “Behold, My covenant is with you!”
The Keli Yakar makes an important observation about this pasuk: Hashem is not telling Avraham Avinu that He will be making a covenant with Him, but rather that He already has a covenant with him.
This is surprising. We would have thought that Hashem is now making the covenant, and presents the mitzvah of berit milah as the symbol of that new covenant. But in truth, the covenant was already there before. The Keli Yakar explains that Hashem here is telling Avraham, “We have this special relationship, but now I want people to see it. I want it known to the world that you are special to Me.”
It is not enough to be a special people. We need to show it.
We need to make it known that the Jewish Nation is different, is unique, and represents higher standards and values. We need to show the world why we call ourselves Hashem’s chosen nation.
We might not realize this, but 98% of what we do is not seen by the outside world. The world does not see our beautiful Shabbat and holiday observance. They do not see our Torah classes, how hundreds upon hundreds of people regularly take time out of their schedules to hear words of wisdom and inspiration. They do not see us pray. They are not aware of all the selfless acts of kindness that are performed each and every day across the Jewish world.
The only way we show our special relationship with Hashem is by speaking and acting with dignity and respect. By dressing respectably. By speaking in a refined, courteous manner. By being patient, polite, and forgiving in our dealings with people. By refraining from vulgarity. By being respectful even to people whom we disagree with.
Our parasha introduces us to the sinful city of Sedom, which ultimately was destroyed. The pasuk in Sefer Yehezkel tells us that the main sin of Sedom was that they did not assist the poor. The commentators explain that it’s not just that the townspeople were not charitable. It means that this became an integral part of the society’s nature. They all adopted this policy – that they don’t share their wealth with the needy. This became who they were.
If the society of Sedom was overrun by greed and selfishness, our society is overrun by disrespect and a lack of dignity. The media is awash with vulgarity, obscenity, violence and fighting. This is what people today – both children and adults – are exposed to for many hours of every day.
We need to be better than that. Just as Avraham stood in opposition to the greed of Sedom by being a bastion of kindness, we need to stand in opposition to our society by being especially respectful and dignified in all our interactions. We must dress, speak and act on a higher standard – a standard befitting a people that has made a special covenant with Hashem, and which has been singled out to represent Him to the entire world.