Our forefather Avraham is noted for his absolute dedication to the ideals of Chesed – kindness. A stunning example of this is recorded at the beginning of the Parsha. Avraham, at the age of 99, on the third day after his Bris – circumcision, instead of recuperating comfortably indoors, sat outdoors in the sweltering heat so that he might possibly catch sight of a traveler in order to provide him with nourishment and lodging.Rashi points out, “When G-d saw that Avraham was upset over the fact that he had no guests to entertain, He sent three angels disguised as people.”
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein o.b.m. finds it difficult to understand why Avraham was aggravated because he was not able to host guests; after all, when there are no guests to entertain, there is no Mitzvah present. This would seem similar to one who is upset during the weekdays, that at the present moment he cannot observe the laws of Shabbos.
Reb Moshe explains that Chesed is unique. There is a Mitzvah to desire and yearn to do and perform acts of Chesed even when there is no recipient for this Chesed. Similar to one who hungers for food even though there is no food in front of him and he knows that he cannot get any food. This is the type of craving and passion Avraham had towards performing the Mitzvah of Chesed. Our forefather Avraham serves as a beacon to what we should aspire to in our performance of Chesed for others.
An interesting exercise that the great sage, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian o.b.m. implemented in his daily practice, was that he made sure that a day should not go by without him consciously performing an act of Chesed for another.
The Torah relates that Lot, Avraham’s nephew, invited two people into his house as guests, who were in fact angels. When the inhabitants of Sedom got wind that Lot was in violation of Sedom’s code which prohibited inviting strangers to one’s house, they surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that he release the visitors. Lot tried to reason with the crowd, but they tried to grab him and harm him. The angels pulled Lot indoors, and the verse states, “And the people who were gathered outside were smitten with blindness / hallucinations and they could not find the door to the house.” The angels then rescued Lot, his wife, and two daughters from the destruction of Sedom and Amorrah.
I recently read the following fascinating account: A short while after Kristalnacht, (November 9, 1938) the Nazi’s were on the hunt for Jews, specifically the leaders of the Jewish communities, and in particular the head Rabbis of various establishments and Chasiddic groups.
The Skolya Rebbe, Rabbi Dovid Yitzchok Issac Rabinowitz o.b.m. who was living in Vienna at the time was forced to leave his residence and go into hiding.
His son, Yosef Boruch, recalls that he was with his father in a second floor apartment, when he looked out the window and saw Nazis pulling up and surrounding the building so that no one could escape. “I began to cry, telling my saintly father, ‘They are going to take us’. My father went to the window to assess the situation, and then turned to me and said, ‘My dear son, they will not come into this apartment!’ My father then held my right hand in his left hand and approached the main door of the apartment. Holding the lock with his right hand he closed his holy eyes and began to whisper to himself. I was able to catch a few of the verses that he recited, one of them (taken from this week’s Parsha) “And the men who were in front of the house, were smitten with blindness, from the oldest to the youngest, and they could not find the door.”
“I then began to hear barbaric screaming and the sound of them breaking the apartment doors on the lower level. I was gripped with fear and turned to look at my father. I saw his holy and shiny face engrossed in prayer and supplication to the Almighty, totally undisturbed and oblivious of the commotion. The Nazis then headed up to our floor and going to the apartment to our right they screamed like dogs for them to open the door. After they broke down the door, they went to the apartment to our left, skipping our door, thus fulfilling the verse, “They could not find the door.”
“After the Nazis left the building, my father shed a torrent of tears for those who were taken by the Nazis.”
Incidentally, the Rabbi and his son were able to flee to Italy and eventually settled in New York. In our youth, both my wife and I (before we met) had the merit to see this great rabbi. Malki received a blessing from him upon becoming a Bat Mitzvah and I saw him when I visited his Shul, which was in my neighborhood. A sight to behold!