ABRAHAM: PUBLIC RELATIONS GURU
The Torah precedes the dramatic story of the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac, by providing us with a seemingly unimportant detail after Abraham negotiates a deal with Avimelech. "And Abraham planted an eishel in B'ersheva and invoked there in the name of Hashem, G-d of the universe" (Genesis 21:33).
The Torah precedes the dramatic story of the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac, by providing us with a seemingly unimportant detail after Abraham negotiates a deal with Avimelech. "And Abraham planted an eishel in B'ersheva and invoked there in the name of Hashem, G-d of the universe" (Genesis 21:33). Rashi, the great medieval commentator cites two explanations from the Talmud of what an eishel is. Either the eishel was an orchard to supply Abraham's guests with fruit, or it was an inn to house Abraham's guests. The second explanation is supported by the fact that eishel is an acronym for the Hebrew words for eating, drinking, and escorting, the three basic services a host should provide his guests.
If the Torah tells us this detail that Abraham planted an eishel, there must be a lesson to be learned from this story. Indeed, the second half of the verse indicates that Abraham sanctified G-d's name with this act. However, when Abraham wished to publicly sanctify G-d's name in his previous travels he always built an altar. When he was in the city of Shechem he built an altar and sanctified G-d's name (ibid. 12:6). At Beit El he pitched his tent and built an altar and called out G-d's name (ibid. 12:8). Finally, at Chevron, he built an altar (ibid. 13:18). So why here in B'ersheva does Abraham establish a resort to sanctify G-d's name?
Rabbi Ben Zion Firer, a contemporary Torah scholar in Israel, suggests an answer. In order to publicize G-d's name most effectively, Abraham had to be attuned to the mood of the people around him. When he left his home and first came to the land of Israel, Abr aham noticed that people were unaware of the one G-d concept. While others were bringing many sacrifices - a sheep to the rain god, a lamb to the sun god, and various livestock to other perceived deities - Abraham only brought one offering. Abraham traveled to Shechem, Beit El, and Chevron, built altars, and brought offerings in each of these places, and called out G-d's name, i.e. only one G-d.
When he came to B'ersheva, Abraham saw that recognizing one G-d was no longer the primary problem. Prior to Abraham pitching his tent in B'ersheva, the city of Sodom was violently destroyed by Hashem. Our Rabbis teach us that Sodom was destroyed because its inhabitants were unusually cruel to outsiders. Worse, Sodomites wanted to kill Abraham's nephew Lot for even attempting to host guests. Abraham therefore realized that at this point in history, it was much more important to teach others about the importance of relationships between man and his fellow man, rather than relation ships between man and G-d. As a result, Abraham built an inn or planted an orchard to teach others the concept of chesed, of giving to others. Finally, in addition to performing acts of kindness for others, Abraham calls out G-d's name in order to show that a relationship with G-d is not to be disregarded.
The eishel teaches us that Abraham was highly attuned to his "audience". He knew that the same approach would not work for everyone. Therefore, he developed a unique method for each situation to convey his important message. An effective teacher, parent, or communal leader realizes that talking to others about a value is not enough. In order to properly convey the message one must take the time to understand what motivates others in order to inspire them, just as Abraham inspired others to believe in one G-d.
Eyal Feiler, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta and a graduate of Yeshiva University, resides in New York.
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