We read towards the beginning of Parashat Lekh-Lekha of Avraham’s experiences after arriving in Canaan, how drought conditions forced him to leave Canaan and temporarily reside in Egypt. There he became very wealthy as a result of the gifts showered upon him by Pharaoh, and he returned to Canaan a very rich man.
The Torah relates that as Avraham traveled from Egypt back to Canaan, “Va-yeilekh le-masa’av” – literally, “He went along his journeys” (13:3). Rashi, citing the Midrash, explains this to mean that upon his return to Canaan, Avraham repaid all his debts. Apparently, the drought had caused grave economic hardship in Canaan, forcing Avraham to take loans or purchase food on credit. Now, after he had amassed a large fortune, Avraham made a point of repaying all his creditors.
A number of writers addressed the question of why the Midrash would find it necessary to inform us that Avraham repaid his debts. Why is this worthy of mention? Would we have suspected Avraham of refusing to repay his creditors once he obtained the financial means to do so?
Rav Yitzchak Shlomo Elbaum, in his Avnei Shai, suggests that the Midrash seeks to draw our attention to the fact that people trusted Avraham and lent him money. They readily offered him loans, fully confident that he would someday repay them and they would not lose the money. This marked a fulfillment of God’s promise to Avraham when He commanded him to relocate in Canaan, “va-agadela shemekha” – that he would earn widespread recognition. The fact that Avraham was able to find lenders who trusted him when he needed help testified to the fulfillment of this promise, that he earned a reputation among the people of Canaan for his honesty and reliability. What is noteworthy, then, is not that Avraham repaid his loans, but that people had granted him loans confidently knowing that he could be trusted.
According to tradition, Avraham devoted his life to the effort to disseminate the belief in one God, courageously opposing the pagan beliefs that prevailed. The Midrash’s brief remark about Avraham paying his creditors reminds us that such efforts cannot succeed without earning people’s trust and a reputation for ethical behavior. The very first condition that must be met if we wish to represent God in the world, and if we wish to influence and inspire people with faith, is being honest and trustworthy, being the kind of person upon whom people confidently feel they can rely without any hesitation.