05 Nov 2020 Parshas Vayeira: From Chessed In a Tent to Chessed In a Box
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayeira, we meet Avraham Avinu three days after his bris milah (Rashi to Bereishis 18:1), when the pain is the most intense. As the parsha opens Avraham is sitting at the entrance to his tent, waiting for passersby so that he could welcome them and fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, welcoming guests.
וַיֵּרָ֤א אֵלָיו֙ ה’ בְּאֵלֹנֵ֖י מַמְרֵ֑א וְה֛וּא יֹשֵׁ֥ב פֶּֽתַח־הָאֹ֖הֶל כְּחֹ֥ם הַיּֽוֹם – and Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamre, and he was sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. Rashi teaches: פתח האהל. לִרְאוֹת אִם יֵשׁ עוֹבֵר וָשָׁב וְיַכְנִיסֵם בְּבֵיתוֹ – he was sitting at the entrance to his tent, to see if there were passersby, and he would bring them into his home.
וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּה֙ שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יו וַיַּ֗רְא וַיָּ֤רָץ לִקְרָאתָם֙ מִפֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֔הֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ אָֽרְצָה – and he lifted his eyes, and behold, there were three men standing upon him, and he saw and he ran to greet them from the entrance of his tent and he bowed to the ground (Bereishis 18:1-2).
After beseeching the men to remain at his tent, and not pass from before him, he ordered that some water be brought so that they might wash their feet and recline under the tree (v.3-4). He offered the guests some bread so they might nourish their hearts and then ran to the tent of Sarah to request that she bake cakes. Furthermore, וְאֶל־הַבָּקָ֖ר רָ֣ץ אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיִּקַּ֨ח בֶּן־בָּקָ֜ר רַ֤ךְ וָטוֹב֙ וַיִּתֵּ֣ן אֶל־הַנַּ֔עַר וַיְמַהֵ֖ר לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת אֹתֽוֹ, and to the cattle Avraham ran, took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the youth who hurried to prepare it. Rashi teaches: בן בקר רך וטוב. ג‘ פָּרִים הָיוּ, כְדֵי לְהַאֲכִילָן ג‘ לְשׁוֹנוֹת בְּחַרְדָּל – there were three bulls, in order to feed the guests three tongues in mustard sauce (v.5-7).
Here we have the paragon of chessed, the father and founder of the Umah Yisraelis, Avraham Avinu, putting aside his own pain from his bris milah to care for and tend to others.
The Sages teach (Avos 1:2) עַל שְׁלֹשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד: עַל הַתּוֹרָה, וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה, וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים – upon three things does the world stand: upon Torah, upon divine service, and upon acts of loving kindness. Each of these three pillars that hold up our world corresponds to one of the Patriarchs. Torah corresponds to Yaakov Avinu, the pure man who dwelled in the tents of Torah (Bereishis 25:27 with Rashi); Avodah corresponds to Yitzchak Avinu, the olah temimah of Akeidas Yitzchak (Bereishis 22); and gemillus chassadim corresponds to Avraham Avinu, whose tent was open to all.
It is the pillar of chessed, modeled for us – and taught to us – by Avraham Avinu, that has become a hallmark of the Jewish nation throughout the millennia.
R’ Daniel Feldman writes, “Hospitality, or hakhnasat orchim, occupies a unique position of honor even within the distinguished plane of chesed.
“R. Menachem ibn Makhir identifies a potential of five separate themes of chesed contained within this category: (I) Providing a resting place for those weary with the burdens of travel (II) Providing food and drink to those who have been weakened by the lack of these resources (III) Saving travelers from the shame and embarrassment of having to seek out lodging or of going without (IV) The opportunity to perform a magnanimous act of kindness to someone whom one may not previously have known or have received any benefit from (V) And finally, if one emulates the model of Abraham, the potential exists to impact upon the visitor spiritually as well as physically.
“Indeed, it is Abraham’s model that is at the center of any discussion of this topic, and that provides the basis for one of the most significant teachings about hospitality: the Talmudic statement that its importance outweighs even receiving the Divine presence. This is derived from the behavior of Abraham, who received a Divine visitation during his recuperation from his circumcision. Nonetheless, he interrupted that experience to greet the three mysterious guests, apparently in need of hospitality, who appeared at that time. This interpretation of events is based on a specific reading of the Biblical text (see Bereishis 18:3 with Rashi and Onkelos)… if understood in this manner, the astonishing nature of Abraham’s behavior is brought to the fore” (Divine Footsteps: Chesed and the Jewish Soul, p.121-122).
Since the ancient Plains of Mamre, and Avraham’s welcoming three dusty nomadic travelers into his home, his children, Am Yisrael, understand that in our essence, we are a people of chessed for those in need (Yevamos 79a). And even when we feel pain, as did Avraham post milah, we have the courage and fortitude, the empathy and love, to put our pain aside to care for others.
Over the past couple of months, while the COVID pandemic still rages, with its far reaching, multi-faceted effects (R”L), an initiative was begun in Far Rockaway NY. It is called “Carnival In A Box.” For families affected by COVID, who are either ill and/or in quarantine (a most difficult and tense situation, especially for the young children affected), a “Carnival In A Box” is dropped at the family doorstep with (in the words of one recent recipient) “everything you need for families in quarantine” to set up a home carnival.
Having seen pictures of smiling children running their “carnival booths” for family members, after having spent days at home, all I could think of was “Mi ki’amcha Yisrael goy echad ba’aretz – And who is like Your people Israel, one nation in the world” (Divrei Hayamim I 17:21). Since the end of August, over ninety boxes have been distributed to families in quarantine, l’zecher nishmas Morah Devorah Hecht a’h, a beloved TAG Morah who was recently nifteres.
Like Avraham Avinu, even from our pain, we look for ways to help others and bring simcha to their lives. A purposeful day is a chessed-filled day, and we must always strive to emulate Avraham, and find ways to do and care, for others.
May we always be blessed with the kochos, resources, abilities and motivation to do so, as we continue the legacy of Avraham and the mark of a Jew.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,