By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis are replete with inspirational accounts of the avos and imahos that impart lessons for us to apply to our daily lives. The stories of Chumash overflow with teachings that have molded our people.
In Parshas Vayeira, we are introduced to the lofty chesed that characterized Avrohom Avinu. The Torah tells us that Avrohom interrupted a conversation with Hakadosh Boruch Hu to care for three wayfarers who were passing his tent.
Although the Torah does not say anything about Avrohom’s conversation with Hashem, it provides a lengthy description of how he cared for his guests, each word of the pesukim is full of hints derived by Chazal.
The Torah is not simply a collection of stories. Everything that appears in the Torah is there to teach a lasting lesson. Apparently, Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s conversation with Avrohom contained less of a message relevant for Jews through the ages than the message of the importance of hospitality learned from Avrohom’s interactions with his guests.
Avrohom was conversing with Hashem when three desert nomads appeared on the horizon. He ran towards them to see if he could be of assistance. He didn’t know that they were malochim. He didn’t know that the Torah would write about this incident so that people for all time could learn how to conduct hachnosas orchim.
How would we have reacted in that situation? How do we act when we are doing something and a collector comes by?
Anyone can be nice to a likeable person. The test of greatness is how we treat ordinary folk who are different than us and for whom we have no special affinity. How we treat people when we are overwhelmed with our own needs attests to how deeply committed we are to the path of our forefathers.
Avrohom ignored his own needs and treated each transient as if he were important.
So we learn how to act positively and care for others from Avrohom, but where did Avrohom learn it from and from where did he derive that it was proper to interrupt a conversation with Hakadosh Boruch Hu and ask Him to wait for him while he cared for the guests?
The Gemara (Shabbos 127a) quotes Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav, who derives from Avrohom’s conduct that “gadol hachnosas orchim m’kabbolas pnei haShechinah – hachnosas orchim is greater than speaking with Hashem.” The Gemara does not explain how Avrohom knew that.
It seems to defy comprehension. If we were ever to merit for Hashem to speak to us, would we interrupt our conversation to feed a nomad at our door? If we had an important guest, would we leave him to help someone we didn’t know?
The Rambam quotes the teaching of Rav Yehudah in Hilchos Avel (14:1-2), and a reading of his words sheds light upon our question.
The Rambam opens Chapter 14 of Hilchos Avel by stating, “It is a mitzvah miderabbonon to visit the sick, comfort the mourner, hotzoas hameis, hachnosas kallah, lelavos orchim, to gladden a chosson and kallah, etc. These are all included in gemillus chassodim shebegufo for which there is no limit to what we are to do.”
He continues that “even though these mitzvos are miderabbonon, they are included in ‘ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha.’ Anything that you would want others to do for you, you should do for other people…”
He then goes on to detail more of the laws of hachnosas orchim that are derived from the way Avrohom Avinu dealt with his guests as recounted in this week’s parsha.
We can suggest that since the source of the root of the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim is from the mitzvah of ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha, to treat others the way you want others to treat you, Avrohom felt obligated to interrupt what he was doing to help the three people wandering in the desert under a blazingly hot sun.
Every person, when sick and in pain, hopes that people will stop what they are doing and care for him. Every person who is lost in the desert, hot and thirsty, wishes that the people in the house they see up ahead will open the door and let him in. Every person in pain wants anyone who can relieve their discomfort to drop what they are doing and rush to his rescue.
When you are hungry and lost and need a drink and directions, and the person who can help you happens to be busy at the moment, you might understand that he doesn’t want to be interrupted, but you think that in your case, that person should make an exception. He should step away from what he is doing for a minute and tend to you.
Since that is the case, the mitzvah of ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha demands that you treat other people that way. From this perspective, Avrohom derived that he was obligated to interrupt his conversation with the Shechinah to care for the guests. He felt obligated to set aside his own desire for attaining greater spiritual heights so that he could perform the mitzvah of caring for others.
In so doing, he forged a legacy that would follow the Jewish people through the generations.
We have to absorb that lesson and recognize the importance of every single person and his or her needs. We need to put ourselves in their place, feel their pain, and do whatever we can to alleviate their suffering.
All through life, people experience ups and downs. It is not always possible for us to solve the problems of our friends and family as they go through hard times, as we are not always equipped with the resources to rectify the situation. We can, however, offer messages of support.
When people go through hard times, it gives them consolation to know that other people care about them. Even if we aren’t all blessed with the gift of always being able to find the right words, we ought to be able to find ways of expressing our solidarity and friendship.
People who seek shidduchim and others who require assistance need us to pay attention to them in an un-patronizing way. They need and deserve more than lip service. The mitzvah of ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha obligates us to put ourselves in their place and do whatever we can to help them.
When someone is trying unsuccessfully to get their children accepted into a school and they turn to us for assistance, we can either ignore them, or explain to them why they are wasting their time, or send them to someone else. But what we should do is feel for them, put ourselves in their place, and do for them what we would want someone to do for us if the tables were turned.
Avrohom Avinu showed us that. Just as nothing was beyond his dignity, nothing should be beyond ours. Just as he interrupted what he was doing to help his fellow human being, so must we help people desperate for someone to come to their aid.
In Parshas Chayei Sarah, we see the difficulty that Avrohom Avinu experienced in finding a suitable shidduch for his son, Yitzchok. Avrohom sent his servant, Eliezer, on a mission to find a suitable mate for Yitzchok. Eliezer swore that he would follow Avrohom’s directives about where to look for the right girl.
The Torah spends so much time recounting how Eliezer went about his task that the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 60:8) states, “Yofeh sichoson shel avdei botei avos mitorasan shel bonim.” The parsha of Eliezer offers so many lessons regarding how we are to lead our lives that the Torah elaborates on everything that Eliezer thought, did and said.
The purpose of the Torah relating the episode of Eliezer is to instruct us in middos. The reason these stories are retold is not to make for interesting, charming tales for youngsters to repeat at the Shabbos table. They are meant to be studied on a deep level and used as a practical guide in our own lives.
Eliezer was determined to find a girl blessed with middos tovos for the son of his master. He used his situation to test her and ensure that the girl who would marry Yitzchok possessed a refined character and excelled above all in her dealings with others.
Eliezer displayed a sincere dedication to his master coupled with deep faith in Hashem despite all of the difficulties inherent in the situation. In fact, in referring to Eliezer, the Medrash (ibid. 60:1) states that the posuk in Yeshayah (50:10) which states, “Asher holach chasheichim v’ein nogah lo – Who went in darkness and who has no light,” refers to Eliezer when he was on his mission to find a shidduch for Yitzchok.
Even when it seemed entirely dark and there was little hope that he would be able to fulfill his master’s request, Hashem lit the way for him. The Medrash states, “Hakadosh Boruch Hu hayah me’ir lo bezikim ubevrakim – Hashem lit the way for him with lightening.” When the person of faith appears to be lost in the dark, the light of Hashem will burst forth as lightning through the darkness and dread.
Sometimes, people involved in shidduchim grow so despondent that they give up all hope. A good study of this week’s parsha and its Medrashim can help instill in us the faith necessary to endure the shidduchim period and other trying times. In every other difficult situation, we must always remain optimistic and maintain hope. The dark clouds will eventually part for men and women of faith and their world will be brightly lit.
We must never let anyone rob us of hope. We are entitled to dream of brighter and happier days. As long as we can keep hope alive, we will not lose sight of our goal and will remain loyal to our ambition. For when we lose hope, we have lost everything. We must not lose our faith and optimism.
Eliezer learned from Avrohom to never quit and to maintain faith in Hashem. If we don’t do more than scratch the surface of these parshiyos, we will be overlooking the Torah’s teachings intended to help refine our characters and infuse our lives with holiness. That timeless wisdom will draw us closer to G-d and to our fellow man. It will infuse us with holiness and strength.
Let us all endeavor to expend the effort to increase our study of Torah. We will thus be better able to help ourselves. We will be more sensitive and attuned to those around us, and better equipped to ease their pain and hardship.
The Shela writes that Avrohom learned kindness by studying the actions of Hashem, who created the world to benefit man. He learned that he was obligated to be charitable and kind from the posuk of “veholachta bidrochov – and you should go in Hashem’s ways” (Devorim 28:9).
The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 1:6 and Sefer Hamitzvos 8) cites the lesson from the posuk of veholachta bidrochov that just as Hashem is merciful, so should you be, and just as He is a tzaddik, so should you be, and just as He is a chossid, so should you be.
Following in the merciful ways of Hashem is not just a good idea and something meritorious. Rather, it is a mitzvas asei de’Oraisa and is incumbent upon all Jews to follow.
The posuk (18:19) says, “Ki yedativ lemaan asher yetzaveh es bonov v’es beiso acharov veshomru derech Hashem laasos tzedakah umishpot – For I know [Avrohom] that he will command his children and the people of his house to follow in the ways of Hashem to be charitable and just.” The Gemara (Yevamos 79a) states that from this posuk – laasos tzedakah – we see that the Jewish people are kind, and that is one of their three attributes, namely, that they are merciful, bashful and kind.
We are to deal with people mercifully, with kindness and compassion. Being a tough guy who deals roughly with people, without pity and concern, is incompatible with living as a Torah Jew. Being harsh and merciless is incongruous with our Torah and tradition. Even when we must provide a negative response to someone’s appeal, we can do so compassionately, with love and care, just as we would want someone to deal with us.
If we do so, we will earn the blessings that were given to Avrohom Avinu and prove ourselves to be the type of people he would have been proud of.