A Torah Thought for Teens – Parshas Vayera
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
V’anochi Afar V‘efer (Bereshis 18:27)
The Torah relates how Avraham pleaded with Hashem for mercy on behalf of the people of Sedom and the surrounding cities. He began by asking Hashem to forgive the people of Sedom if He would find fifty tzadikim in the city. When it became clear that there were not fifty tzadikim to be found, Avraham continued to daven to Hashem and attempted to lower the number of tzadikim needed to save Sedom – from fifty to forty-five to forty; and beyond. Several times, in midst of his tefilos, he paused, and apologized for the appearance of possible disrespect to Hashem. At one point, Avraham humbly said, “I am [considered to be worthless like] dust and ashes [and therefore I should not have the temerity to continue my tefilah.]
Rashi explains that Avraham selected these 2 metaphors for worthlessness to allude to the fact that he was further humbled by the intervention of Hashem, which saved his life on 2 occasions:
1) 1) He would have been buried in the dust of the desert had he been killed while chasing the 4 Kings
2) 2) He would have been reduced to ashes after being thrown into the fire of Nimrod.
Several questions come to mind:
Why were 2 examples of worthlessness noted by Avraham, when one would have sufficed?
Secondly, the order of the 2 should have been reversed; e’fer v’afar (ashes, then dust)? After all, the incident with Nimrod took place long before the war between the kings!
The Beis Halevi explains that there was, in fact, a deeper meaning behind the seemingly casual statement of Avraham.
Earth has limitless potential for future planting and producing, so long as seeds and nutrients are provided. This is the case even if the earth would have been dormant for thousands of years. Ashes, on the other hand, represent something of the past, such as the pile of ash that is the sole remnant of a magnificent building with a glorious history.
This would explain the order of the 2 expressions, says the Beis Halevi. Avraham, in his humility, used them to highlight the fact that he had done nothing of value in the past (similar to earth), and would not do anything noteworthy in the future (comparable to ashes).
The Gemarah notes that in response to the anivus of Avraham, Hashem answers him by giving Klal Yisroel 2 mitzvos, afar sotah (the earth used by the cohen that was mixed with water from the beis hamikdash) and the efer parah (the ashes of the parah adumah used to purify one who became tamei).
The Beis Halevi explains that these 2 mitzvos were given as a direct response to the 2 expressions used by Avraham. The earth of the sotah only addresses the past, while the ashes of the parah purify the future, regardless of one’s past. Avraham told Hashem that he had no zechusim in the past and expected none in the future. Hashem expressed the greatest confidence in Avraham and gave his children the most priceless gifts – 2 mitzvos – that are rooted in the past and the future.
Often, we are faced with 2 divergent obstacles in our path to success in avodas haKodesh, in our development of middos tovos, or in any other area of self-improvement. We may be troubled by past misdeeds, or we may feel that we have little hope of realizing our goals for the future. Both of these, especially when taken to the extreme, can cripple our ability to grow and thrive. The correct path to follow is to have sincere regret (and do teshuvah) for missteps in the past, while believing in our own ability, with the help of Hashem, to strive for and achieve our lofty dreams. May we be zoche to realize all of them.
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.
 Gemorah Sotah 17a
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