There are two occurrences in Parshat VaYera that involve Avimelech, the king of the Pelishtim. We are first introduced to him when the Torah recounts Avraham’s journey to Avimelech’s land. The Torah tells how Avimelech took Sarah from Avraham, not knowing that she was married. Later in the Parshah, we meet Avimelech again, when Avraham accuses Avimelech’s servants of stealing wells from him. Although these two episodes seem entirely unrelated, Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky explains that the two stories share many common characteristics and are therefore meant to be compared to each other.
Both of Avimelech’s sins involve Gezeilah, stealing. In the first case, he steals a wife from her husband. In the second, his servants steal Avraham’s wells. In addition, Avimelech provides essentially the same justification for both cases. He says that he was unaware that Sarah was a married woman and he also claims that he did not know that his servants had stolen any wells.
However, the difference between the two episodes is in Avraham Avinu’s responses. When Avraham addresses Avimelech for taking Sarah, he attributes the sin to the spiritual environment of Avimelech’s society, or lack thereof. Avraham says (20:11), “Rak Ein Yirat Elokim BaMakom HaZeh,” “There is but no fear of God in this place.” Concerning the theft of the wells, however, Avraham does not provide an explanation for why the theft occurred, because he had already explained the reason when he first addressed Avimelech. It is obvious that a society that would allow theft of a human being would condone theft of wells.
There is a basic question which emerges from Avraham’s response. He attributes the theft of his wife to a lack of Yirat Hashem. However, it is possible to have a community which lacks Yirat Hashem but nevertheless respects other people’s property and does not engage in theft!
Rabbi Sobolofsky explains that Avraham Avinu specifically responds as he does in order to refute this logic. The root of all evil, whether manifested in Bein Adam LaMakom or Bein Adam LaChaveiro, stems from a lack of Yirat Hashem. Avraham is stressing the importance of Yirat Hashem and rejecting the possibility that a society can live morally and ethically without it.
We should all be Zocheh to apply this idea that Avraham Avinu has established for us and to strive to reach the appropriate level of Yirat Hashem.