And I am dust and ashes

Thursday, 10 November, 2022 - 12:46 pm

This week’s Parasha, Vayera, is full of wonderful stories: Avraham’s hosptality, Sarah’s laughter upon hearing that she will become a mother at age 90, the tragedy of Sodom, Lot and his daughters, Sarah and Hagar (episode II) and of course, Akeidat Yitzchak (The binding of Yitzchak). Definitely a fascinating Parasha. The stories in it contain directions for every human being as to what to do and what not to do.

Personally, what grabbed me most in this entire Parasha were three words spoken by Avraham; and I recommend that every human being say them every morning.

When Hashem told Avraham that He’s planning to destroy Sodom and Amorah, Avraham beseeched Him to have mercy on them. I wrote “beseeched”, but the truth is that he simply “nudged” Hashem again and again, like only he knew how to do. Right before he began to make his request, Avraham said three words: “And I am dust and ashes” (in Hebrew, “Va’anochi Afar Va’efer”). In other words, Avraham’s starting point was that he was not a superior patron coming to help, with the hopes of receiving some compliments for doing it on the way. Avraham was coming from a place of great humility and modesty: Who am I and what am I? Dust and ashes! So every human being is superior to me, and, that being so, I really do respect and appreciate every human being, so my help and giving are offered out of respect and appreciation.

If I am dust and ashes, then I can find room in me to have mercy and make a request even on behalf of the people of Sodom.

This attitude is important not only for accepting the other person and containing him; this attitude is of great significance for the person himself, as well.

Three times a day we pray and say, “And my soul will be to all like dust. Open my heart to your Torah.” The Baal Shem Tov’s explanation of this prayer is: If you want Hashem to open your heart to His Torah, you must first understand, grasp and agree that your soul is like dust to everything, because modesty and humility are the fertile, plowed and planted soil that is the basis for entering the world of Torah.

This is true for Torah and Mitzvahs and it’s also true for everything we do every day, and even for our very existence and lives in this world. A person who knows to get up in the morning and say to himself, “And I am dust and ashes” can be assured that today will be a better day, simply because “dust and ashes” expects less and therefore is less hurt and disappointed when problems come up.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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