By Rabbi Naftoly Bier
The Medrash states for 2,448 years the world existed due to the חסד, selfless dedication to all of אברהם אבינו, our patriarch Abraham, who was the paragon of kindness and taught the world by example.
Due to this dynamic, when he was commanded by Hashem to circumcise himself, he argued, “How can I? All those who I invite into my home won’t come! They will consider me as deranged, for if one truly believes that G-d created us, is it possible that He would command us to “cut off” part of our body? Therefore the existence of the world will be in jeopardy; this takes precedence to a mitzvah.” Hashem answered him that the mitzvah of ברית מילה will bring the Divine Presence to the lower world thereby ensuring its eternity. On the contrary, your elevated spiritual connection to Hashem will enable you to promote His existence on a greater level! And to emulate Hashem’s incessant giving!
In the beginning of this week’s portion we are taught by אברהם אבינו to what extent one’s life should be involved with חסד, chesed and true action of חסד.
Avrohom Avinu is weak from having circumcised himself, but nevertheless when seeing these travelers, he invites them into his home. “And Avrohom hastened to the tent of שרה, Sarah, and he said, quickly prepare – you only – without assistance – loaves of bread.”
“Don’t tarry, and with full vigor execute your responsibilities!” HaRav Yeruchim Levovitz explains that this is a monumental idea. While the action is important, what defines the person is one’s attitude. Every action is to be done as an agent designated agent of Hashem, with alacrity, promptness and exuberance. This is Avrohom Avinu; constantly desiring to execute Hashem’s will! To come a few minutes early to daven or learn is a manifestation of this idea, even earning a person more reward and “bless” than the actual mitzvah.
“Then Abraham ran to the castle, took a calf, tender and good and gave it to the youth (Yishmael) who hurried to prepare it. He took cream, milk and the calf which he had prepared… he stood over these beneath the tree and they ate.”
Chazal explain that the seemingly non-important or redundant adjectives “tender and good”, are teaching us that Avrohom Avinu took three calves, one for each guest. Why? Secondly it states he gave it to the youth to prepare, whereas the next verse states “which he prepared.” Who did prepare it?
The Alshich HaKodesh (1501 – 1593) teaches that the true, sensitive manner and to provide hospitality to a group of guests is to treat them as if everyone is a significant person. This is effectuated by serving each person a distinct, separate and whole portion. In order to dignify each visitor, Avraham Avinu decided to present each one with a calf’s tongue. If he would divide one tongue between them; they might feel they were only treated with tongue due to one of them whose more importance was the cause, thereby feeling inadequate.
What transpired was that Avrohom who was 99 years old at the time and weak due his circumcision asked the “lad”, Yishmael, to prepare two tongues while Avraham would prepare one. But, unfortunately, Yishmal was tardy and therefore in order not to keep the travelers hungry, he substituted the two tongues with cream and milk. He didn’t divide the tongue as we mentioned above, but rather ensured that all would enjoy their respective unique food. A lesson in how to validate with reverence every person.
Avrohom Avinu didn’t remonstrate his son, Yishmael, but rather by his action taught him a lesson; one always has to think of the needs of another and act with enthusiasm and vigor to complete their task with alacrity. A lesson in chinuch: It’s not what a parent says; it is the action they act in “the stage of parenting” which is the proper way to train a child!
The bread which Sarah prepared was not given to the visitors. Why not?
One idea offered by Rabbeinu Bachya is the following: Avrohom and Sarah had a very strict rule they abided by. It is termed אכילת חולין בטהרה, to only eat food that didn’t become spiritually defiled due to a factor that causes that. Sarah, miraculously, had returned to her youth, and had menstruated while preparing the bread. But why is that relevant, the visitors were idol worshippers!?
Rabbeinu Bachya explains that we are being taught an important lesson. If one would offer food they don’t eat to one who is not as strict as they, invariably their respect and reverence for the other would diminish and at the same time they would come to “gloat” due to their superior conduct. Every person is unique to Hashem and consequently one must conduct themselves in the same manner. When one contemplates their superiority, they develop a sense of competition and usually, unfortunately, negate their inner natural sense of importance – that one is an important creation of Hashem.
Avrohom Avinu, the paragon of kindness teaches us that if one always is cognizant and sensitive to another’s nobility and dignity,then the person will truly be a disciple of Hashem. It could be helping a destitute traveler, a child, a friend or humanity as a whole.
מגן אברהם, the Shield of Avrohom – the Vilna Gaon explains that Avrohom Avinu countless times put his life in danger to protect and promulgate the glory and dignity of Hashem. For these actions of selfless dedication and “chesed” to Hashem, he was shielded by Him. Chesed begets chesed!