In this week’s Parasha we find Abraham, our first patriarch, in a long conversation with the Hittites, one of the peoples who lived in the land of Canaan. Abraham asks the Hittites to buy a plot of land in the city of Qiryat Arba, in the area of Hebron, to bury his wife Sara, recently deceased. In this conversation we see that the Hittites, a very powerful idolatrous people, treated Abraham with great respect. And what is more: they call Abraham “Nasi Eloqim”, a representative of God among us. This is very strange, since pagans were quite jealous of their cult. The gods-and their human representatives-competed with each other to demonstrate their power and supremacy. Abraham not only practiced a different religion, his religion was “monotheistic,” which means “exclusivist.” In other words, while other religions proclaimed: “My gods are more powerful than your gods”, the religion of Abraham implied that: “Your gods, simply, do not exist”. This could have been considered by the Hittites as an offensive cult. Especially if they knew that Abraham was an iconoclast, that he had destroyed the idols of his own father! Abraham was different even on the physical plane. Now he had circumcision, which made him different from others. In those times there was no tolerance. We saw for example in the case of Yosef and his brothers in Egypt, that the Egyptians did not eat at the same table of Jews, because they considered their diet something abominable.
With all this, how was it then that Abraham, being so different and opposed to them, was so respected by the Hittites, and surely by other peoples of the region too?
Because Abraham behaved with simplicity, respect and humility.
1. SIMPLICITY: Abraham, who was seen by pagans as the representative of God on earth, had every reason to act with superiority towards other peoples. Demand, for example, to receive offerings and gifts, as happened with Malqi Tsedq, a priest to whom Abraham gave his tithe. But Abraham, far from expecting others to assist him materially, was dedicated to serving others. He sat in his tent waiting to assist travelers who needed shade, bread and water.
2. RESPECT: God spoke with Abraham, and promised him that He would give him and his descendants the land of Canaan. But Abraham never behaved arrogantly in front of the inhabitants of Canaan. His great faith in HaShem could have prompted him to say: “This land will be mine.” While many men could have found plenty of reasons to behave with disdain toward idolaters, Abraham behaved with a lot of respect and integrity towards the Hittites. Abraham represented the epitome of noblesse oblige, the higher you are, the better you should behave towards others less privileged than you.
3. HUMILITY: The humility of Abraham becomes much more evident when we compare Abraham, as our Sages did, with Bil’am. Bil’am was a pagan prophet and HaShem communicated with Bil’am. This privilege made Bil’am look down at all other people. Of course, if Bil’am “spoke with God”, who could be compared to him? So much was Bil’ams arrogance that he spoke of himself in the third person. Bil’am’s arrogance made Bil’am feel superior, he never assisted anyone, unless he saw some material gain for it. He was demanding, ambitious and had disdain and contempt for others. All this ”thanks” to his spiritual superiority .
Although Abraham had different ideas, which he knew were “superior” to the people who lived around him, Abraham’s behavior was irreproachable. Abraham was generous and he freely assisted everyone who needed bread and water. Abraham prayed for people who were spiritually and morally inferior to him, as he did when he prayed for the salvation of Sodom. And Abraham treated everyone with respect and deference, regardless of the faith they professed.
This is why Abraham had no enemies, and he was never judged negatively for his different beliefs. On the contrary, thanks to his excellent behavior toward others, Abraham became the inspiration of other people, pagans, to know and appreciate HaShem, the true and only God.