By Rav Jesse Horn, Yeshivat Hakotel
Classically, we think of Avraham as a wonderful teacher, preacher and religious leader. After all, he discovered monotheism, Judeo-Christian values and successfully taught and inspired others with them. Perhaps his greatest success was his leadership of the converts in Charan (Bereshit Rabbah 39:14 and Rashi on Bereshit 21:5).
Although Avraham’s success in Charan may have been unparalleled, there was a time when people were less willing to accept him and his message; namely, in Ohr Kasdim. The midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 38:13 and Rashi on Bereshit 11:28) records a narrative where Avraham was placed in charge of his father’s idolatry shop. When customers entered the store, Avraham engaged with them in philosophical debate, attacking their position until they felt foolish and left the store. The narrative continues with Avraham destroying all the idols except the biggest one and left an ax in its hands. When asked about the destruction of the idols, Avraham replied that the biggest idol destroyed the others after a fight ensued. Avraham was taken by his father to Nimrod, the local king, as a philosophically rebellious revolutionary. There, Avraham was given a choice of bowing down to the idols or being thrown into a fiery furnace. Although Avraham was miraculously saved from the furnace, the various aspects of this incident demonstrate that people did not take to his creative theological approach very well; everyone he debated left the store, his father handed him over to the authorities and the resident monarch angrily threw him into the furnace.
The vastly different responses of the people of Charan and Ohr Kasdim to Avraham’s presence is striking. So much so that the question begs to be asked, why was Avraham so successful in motivating and inspiring others in Charan, but so unsuccessful in Ohr Kasdim?
Perhaps the simplest answer is just to say that some students are more ready to learn than others. Not all students are interested in being taught, at least not at the time that the teacher is prepared to teach. Perhaps even the Avrahams of the world have bad educational experiences. This lesson is critical for teachers and community leaders. One can only take people as far as they are ready to go.
However, and more profoundly, the different responses may lie in Avraham’s differing approaches. While in Ohr Kasdim, Avraham debated people strongly, broke idols, and fought publicly to disprove philosophical untruths. By contrast, in Charan, Avraham invited in guests and offered them food. Although Avraham was ideologically consistent, he fundamentally altered his strategic approach and that made all the difference in the world. Religious leaders and teachers are bound to be more successful when inviting in guests and showing them the beauty of truth with a soft touch. On some level of rigid objectivity, verbally attacking another may be more appropriate, but it appeals to fewer people and produces less success. Simply stated, one attracts more bees with honey than vinegar.
As children of Avraham and people with an interest in inspiring our nation and the world, let us follow the latter approach, the one that communicates our message via role models, with love and embracing others. The more people notice one’s success at Bein Adam L’Chavaro (commandments between man and his fellow man), the more they notice his/her Bein Adam L’Makom (commandments between man and God). However, the more one shows off one’s Bein Adam L’Chavaro, the more people see neither.
Article originally appeared on Arutz 7