Cruel Cynics (Toldot)
The cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man, and never fails to see a bad one. He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light, mousing for vermin, and never seeing noble game. -Henry Ward Beecher
Sarah miraculously gives birth to Isaac when she’s 90 years old. Isaac was the child of Sarah and Abraham, with Abraham having reached the ripe old age of 100. The miraculous birth was the talk of the town. The prime Torah commentator, Rashi, is quoted as saying that the cynics of the generation attributed the birth not to Abraham, but rather to Avimelech, King of Gerar.
The reason for the false attribution is that Sarah, due to her incredible beauty, had been a captive briefly in Avimelech’s palace, before Isaac’s conception. However, before Avimelech could lay hands on Sarah, God intervenes, warns Avimelech from touching Sarah, tells Avimelech to return Sarah to Abraham, and as a result, Abraham would pray for Avimelech and his household’s wellbeing, whom God had struck during Sarah’s captivity. Avimelech returns Sarah, Abraham does pray for Avimelech and his household who are immediately healed, including the ability to give birth. Shortly after that Sarah gives birth. Rashi quotes the Talmudic dictum that one who prays for others receives a response for his own needs first.
The Chidushei HaRim on Genesis 25:19 wonders why Rashi calls them “cynics” as opposed to “evil” for spreading such vicious slander about Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. Why the need to make up a story of adultery? He answers that these cynics weren’t denying that Abraham was Isaac’s father. Rather they were highlighting the irony of the circumstances of the birth. Sarah, after decades of waiting, finally gives birth to a son, but only after Abraham had prayed for Avimelech. So in a sense, Avimelech was the catalyst for Isaac’s birth, hence the cynics’ attribution of the birth to Avimelech.
Though there may have been some aspect of truth to what the cynics were claiming (i.e. that the prayer for Avimelech was a catalyst for Isaac’s birth), it was cruel nonetheless.
May we beware of the corrosiveness of cynicism.
To four special cities in Israel: Tzfat (air), Tiberias (water), Hebron (earth), and Jerusalem (fire).