Extreme Ownership

Dear Parents,

Contrasting views concerning the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the final days of perhaps the most contentious presidential election in memory have filled our consciousness with sounds and scenes of conflict, blaming and fault-finding.  It seems as if the citizens of today’s default reaction to any difficulty, is to immediately look for who to blame, rather than looking inward to see what they could do better.

…today’s default reaction to any difficulty is to immediately look for who to blame…We know that is not the Torah way.  In this week’s Parsha we see clearly how our forefather Avraham was the exact opposite.  Not only did he take responsibility for his own actions, not only did he not blame others for whatever he endured, but he was known in his generation as one who would go to great lengths to help another out of a situation the other brought upon himself.   Consider the following: In the war between the four kings and the five kings, the locals in Eretz Canaan were roundly defeated.  This included Sodom, and its citizen Lot.

We are familiar with the story. Lot was captured. The Torah relates (Bereishis 14:12-14) how the “survivor” came to tell Avraham that Lot was a captive.  Rashi quotes the Medrash that says the “survivor” was Og, who came with evil intent – he wanted to take Sarah for himself, so sure was he that Avraham would go off to try and save Lot and undoubtedly not return. By preying on Avraham’s goodness, he schemed to get Sarah.  It was apparently well known that Avraham was such a righteous, kind and responsible individual, that he would endanger himself to save Lot.  The same Lot who abandoned Avraham and Hashem and attached himself to the wicked people of Sodom (Rashi 13:11).

Avraham personified the extreme sense of responsibility that is so missing from today’s world.The extent of Avraham’s attitude and behavior toward others is understood on a whole new level by the Seforno.  The Seforno states (Pasuk 13) that Og was actually unaware that Lot was a relative of Avraham.  Nevertheless, because they were co-religionists, that was enough to give Og the confidence that Avraham would be willing to risk his life to save a fellow believer in the teachings of Ever (Great grandson of Shem, head of the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever).  Such was Avraham’s reputation!  Who among us would endanger our very life to enter into battle against overwhelming forces to attempt to save someone who turned his back on us, despite everything we had done for him, and is now assimilated into a degenerate community?!

Avraham remains a model for us for eternity in all aspects of his greatness. How easy it would have been to rationalize that helping Lot in these circumstances was completely not his problem.  The reasons to justify inaction in the situation should be obvious.   Lot was an ingrate, Lot took unfair advantage of his relationship with Avraham, Lot was dishonest, Lot went off the `Derech’, Lot would not have done the same for Avraham.  Furthermore, he had no means to fight a war against mighty Kings, chances of saving Lot were slim and chances of being killed were great.

Despite all this, Og, for one, counted on the fact that Avraham would endanger himself on behalf of LotAvraham personified the extreme sense of responsibility that is so missing from today’s world.  Avraham took ownership of problems, Avraham confronted a challenge and looked inward for a solution.  The blame game was the furthest thing from his mind.

…are we teaching them that every trial and tribulation is sent from Hashem to enable us to grow into greater people?What lessons are our children getting from the current state of affairs?  Are they imbibing the teachings of Avraham Avinu and taking ownership of their own behavior, or are they being drawn towards the anonymous blogger or the overconfident know-it-alls who spew forth the misguided idea that everyone else is to blame for my problems?  Are they learning that every challenge is someone else’s fault and they are helpless victims, or are we teaching them that every trial and tribulation is sent from Hashem to enable us to grow into greater people?  In the midst of the current difficulties and uncertainties, angst and anger, are we building up our children’s resilience and good Middos or are we perhaps failing to protect them from this destructive attitude that so negates the potential greatness that every human possesses.

There is no doubt, that if we internalize the Torah’s perspective that blaming others is diminishing ourselves, we will rise above the foolishness that abounds in today’s attitudes and media.  We will understand that children of Avraham Avinu need to rise above the pettiness and strive for the greatness Avraham implanted within all his descendants.

Have a great, ennobling Shabbos,

Rabbi Kalman Baumann

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