There’s a statement that it used to be, back in Europe, the first Schmooze of the Zman (semester) was about Gehinnom, commonly referred to as Hell. Nowadays, however, we all think we’ve been there and back already.
What is Gehinnom exactly, and how can we relate to such an esoteric concept?
In this week’s parasha we learn about Avraham entreating HaShem to save the city of Sodom and its environs, despite the Torah’s testimony that these cities were depraved, immoral, decadent and just about any other pejorative one could use. So the question is, then, why did Avraham see a need to attempt saving these wicked people? Was this just another act of kindness on Avraham’s part, or is there something deeper going on here?
The Yalkut Reuveni in the beginning of Parashas Vaera cites the Medrash Osios D’Rabbi Akiva that states that even Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov must descend to Gehinnom. On the surface this Medrash is perplexing, as we don’t normally view our Patriarchs as deserving of such a severe punishment for their minuscule misdemeanors. Yet, reading about Avraham’s entreaties on behalf of Sodom offers us a new perspective on this Medrash. Many Sefarim discuss the idea of the righteous ones descending into Gehinnom with the desire to save the wicked from eternal shame. The Medrash states that Dovid HaMelech, upon hearing of his traitorous son Avshalom’s untimely death, cried out בני בני eight times, and this was the catalyst for Avshalom to ascend from the depth of Gehinnom and merit a portion in the World to Come.
Similarly, we can suggest that Avraham also sought to descend into “Gehinnom,” i.e. Sodom, and save the wicked. Avraham, unlike most of humanity, constantly viewed himself as starting over, so what appears to us as major tests were just a part of his daily living. Praying for the wicked, leaving his household, saving his errant nephew, preparing to sacrifice his son, were all deemed to be strenuous tests for the average person, but Avraham passed them all with flying colors.
HaShem should let us merit having a semblance of Avraham’s fortitude and tenacity in serving Him, faithfully, all of our days.
Have a Successful Shabbos!