Sunday, October 31, 2010

Naive & Proud of it!

Avraham's attempt to save Sodom is noble, inspiring, and sad. Sad not only because he fails, but because he is so far out of touch with reality. Avraham honestly thought there were at least fifty Tzadikim living in Sodom! The greatest outreach professional of all time has no understanding of the reality of the world in which he lives! In short, Avraham is embarrassingly naive - and Hashem loves him for it.

Hashem loves Avraham's naivete, Avraham's innocence, Avraham's instinctive assumption that people are good. Hashem knows how Avraham thinks - כי ידעתיו - and He wants to draw it out of him for all the world to see and emulate. "A person must ask, 'When will my behavior be like the behavior of my forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov?'" (Tana D'Bei Eliyahu 24). We must strive for naivete.

Avraham has blind faith not only in God, but in man as well. And this is no coincidence.

The man who discovered Hashem by way of the Divine characteristic of Kindness is obviously going to have trouble seeing evil in the humans created in the divine image. This is not a handicap in his outreach work; on the contrary, Avraham's boundless faith in man makes him all the more beloved, inspirational and influential. And this belief in the inherent goodness of the world is what fortifies Avraham with the innocence required to fulfill his ultimate mission - not outreach, but the building of his own eternal family: כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו ואת ביתו אחריו ושמרו דרך השם לעשות צדקה ומשפט.

Naivete may have helped Avraham HaIvri in other ways in his struggle against a corrupt world. In his memoir, Natan Sharansky describes how it helped him:
In retrospect, as I look back on my first days in Lefortovo I am shocked at my own naivete about Soviet justice. On the other hand, perhaps naivete is an essential component for the person who rejects the spiritual slavery of his society and struggles against a powerful regime. Perhaps it guarentees that you won't be frightened to death or paralyzed by fear. Naivete helps draw you into the struggle, where you're able to meet the growing danger head-on, with a firmer resolve.
Fear No Evil, pg. 22
Naivete clearly has its merits, but let us not be naive. It can also be quite dangerous. Back in Parshas Lech Lecha, Avraham battled four kings and won, conquering a broad swath of the country - including the territory of Sodom. In a surprising move, instead of coronating himself as the new King of Israel, Avraham reinstates the evil Bera, the defeated King of Sodom (cf. 14:21-24). According to the Talmud, this was a grave error:
Why was Avraham punished with having his descendants enslaved in Egypt for 210 years? R. Yochanan said, because he prevented people from entering under the wings of the Shechina, [for the King of Sodom said to Avraham], "Give me the people and take the booty for yourself..." (14:21).
Nedarim 32
Had Avraham understood how bad things were in Sodom would he have acted differently? Probably. But then he wouldn't be Avraham - and Hashem loves Avraham.

We do not laugh at Avraham's mistake. No, it is not sad; it is humbling. Even in the evil society of Sodom, there must be fifty Tzadikim. Even if there aren't.


  1. Is this related to why Yitzchak was "duped" by Esav "ki Tzayid b'Fiv" and why Avraham didn't want to send away Yishmael?

    If so, what is it about Sarah and Rivka that they were able to avoid the naivety of their husbands and see the true character of Yishmael and Esav?

  2. Fantastic! Thank you for running with this naivety idea. As for the women, I don't understand your question. Women are incapable of naivety.

  3. In Peninei HaRav, under Parashas Chayei Sara, R' Schachter brings something from R' Soloveitchik, Ztz'l, that he did not hear directly: There is a question mentioned by the Magen Avraham regarding why Rivka fed Eliezer first and the camels afterward, seemingly the reverse of the normal Halacha. The Rav proposed that the reason for the normal Halacha is that both animals and humans were meant to be fed Min HaDin, that is, Hashem would have had to feed them simply because He created them. It would have been the height of cruelty not to do so. But once man sinned, he lost that merit, and only the animals, who cannot sin, retain their original status. That's why we feed animals first under normal circumstances. So why did Rivka feed Eliezer first? Because she gave him him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he was not a sinner.
    But this is difficult, for it is not an individual's sin that puts him behind the animals -- it is Adam HaRishon's sin, which made him need to sweat for his meals. R' Soloveitchik brings the later Mishna in Kiddushin about the difference in Parnassa for an animal and a human; that difference is from Adam HaRishon. So what is Rivka doing? Is she somehow implying that Eliezer is not of woman born, that he somehow escapes the normal course of struggling for Parnassa. Or is R' Soloveitchik ascribing a naivete to Rivka -- her instinct is to allow for the chance that someone could escape the curse of "B'zai'as Apecha."