Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Avraham explained his lying about his wife to Avimelech because "רק אין יראת אלקים במקום הזה והרגוני על דבר אשתי - There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife."

In 1936, after the Nazis had already risen to power, R. Elchanan Wasserman spoke at the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary, and asked why Avraham used the word "רק only". That implies that the people of that place (Gerar) had other things but just not the fear of God. R. Wasserman explained that the people of Gerar were very cultured. They had literature, music and all the fine aspects of culture. But because they did not have the fear of God, they were liable to kill in cold blood a visitor.

The implication is two-fold and clear. In a timely message, R. Wasserman was criticizing the Nazi regime and suggesting that they were likely to kill people. (Incidentally, it is not surprising for an Eastern European rabbi living at the height of Stalin's reign to suspect Gentiles of wanting to kill Jews. He was clearly correct.)

The second implication is that culture, when accompanied with fear of God, is not dangerous. It is the lack of the fear of God that is the problem, not the culture in itself. Surprising, coming from R. Wasserman? Yes. But there it is. Perhaps he tailored his message for the German-Jewish audience he was addressing.

(On this visit, see the Peninim Mi-Shulchan Gavoha, Gen. 20:11; Artscroll Reb Elchonon, p. 234; Marc Shapiro, Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy, pp. 150-151. Shapiro points out that R. Wasserman refused to visit Yeshiva University but agreed to lecture at the Hildesheimer Seminary.)

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