There is a famous Holocaust story told about the Bluzhever Rebbe, Rav Yisroel Spira. The Germans told all the Jewish prisoners that they had to jump over a large open pit – anyone that failed to make it to the other side would be shot and killed. After seeing many men die in front of them, an irreligious man next to the Rebbe asked him “Do you really think that you have a chance to make it to the other side? Why should we entertain them with our deaths?” But the Rebbe insisted on trying. He explained that he would “hold onto the coattails of his father and grandfather” – and then he jumped. Upon making it to the other side, he found the irreligious man next to him. The Rebbe asked him “How did you get here?” The irreligious man answered “I held on to your coattails!” One may ponder after such an experience: Wouldn’t this irreligious man seek to become a Bluzhever chassid?
Melech Sodom was miraculously saved from the chemar (slime pit) so that people would believe that Avraham Avinu could also be miraculously saved from the fires of Ur Kasdim. The Ramban explains that everyone knew that Melech Sodom was only saved due to the merits of Avraham and therefore no one would say that avoda zora has power. The Shem M’Shmuel points out, based on a Medrash, that sensational things do not just happen, and therefore Melech Sodom challenged Avraham: “Though it is true that I was saved in your merit, G-d does not make miracles just for anyone – I must also have some connection to your middos.”
I think that the absurdity and self-centeredness of Melech Sodom is something that we can see in ourselves at times. When we find ourselves better off than others, we always tend to focus on the assumption that it must be that we are great.
Imagine a simple Jew whose behavior was nowhere near that of a righteous man, yet had a wife and children who are exemplary in their service of Hashem. At some point his wife says to him “Maybe you should spend a little more time pursuing Torah and mitzvahs?”, to which the husband replies “That is nonsense! Hashem must want me to work all the time, for you see he has made me rich and successful.” In reality, the reason the man was successful was not due to his own merit, but due to the fact that his wife and children were truly worthy Jews. On his own, he was unworthy of anything in particular, but due to the righteousness of his family, he was chosen to be the vehicle to bring them parnassa.
When we see blessing bestowed upon ourselves, we must acknowledge the possibility that we may just be a pawn, and not the deserving beneficiaries of Hashem’s benevolence. When Avraham Avinu received the spoils of war, he immediately understood that the reason for his success was to bring glory to Hashem’s name and therefore, possibly, he tithed his financial gains.
Whether we are truly deserving of our blessings or just a pawn to bring goodness to others, if we use the bracha Hashem gives us in a way that glorifies Hashem’s name, we have used it wisely and will probably be blessed in the future.