Parshat Vayeira

 

ספר בראשית פרק יח

(א) וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְדֹוָד בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא וְהוּא ישֵׁב פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם:

Genesis Chapter 18:1:

  • Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day:

The portion of Vayeira begins with this verse describing Hashem’s visit to Avraham. What prompted this visit, and why is the Torah mentioning the weather (a blistering hot day)?

Rashi’s comment on this verse provides us with the background information.

Rabbi Chama Bar Chaninah explained: This was the third day after Avraham had circumcised himself, and Avraham was in great pain. Hashem came to pay Avraham a visit as he was sick, and Hashem modeled the mitzvah of ביקור חולים  – visiting the sick.

Avraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent to see if there were any travelers needing food or lodging. Avraham’s tent was really a five-star hotel for any traveler in need, and Avraham sought to bestow kindness on as many people as he possibly could. He sought out the needy traveler, which is what he was doing on that scorching hot day.

It was so hot because Hashem didn’t want anyone to impose on Avraham who was in such pain So Hashem made it so hot that no one would attempt to travel on that day.

 

(ב) וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה שְׁלשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים נִצָּבִים עָלָיו וַיַּרְא וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אָרְצָה:

  1. He lifted his eyes and saw – And behold! three men were standing over him. He perceived, so he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and bowed toward the ground:

What happened here? Didn’t we just say that Hashem wanted him to be left alone?

Rashi explains that when Hashem saw that the pain of not having guests was greater to Avraham than the pain of his wound, Hashem sent three angels–it was too hot for ordinary people–disguised as regular people to become Avraham’s guests.

When Avraham saw them, he ran to them to invite them to partake of his hospitality. Hashem was then visiting with Avraham, yet Avraham left His presence to welcome the guests! (Though he pardoned himself first.) This is what we read in the next verse.

(ג) וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנָי אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ אַל נָא תַעֲבֹר מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ:

  1. And he said, “My Lord, if I find favor in Your eyes, please do not leave Your servant.”

Avraham requested the Almighty to wait for him while he took care of the guests. Can you imagine?!

Here, Avraham Avinu is having the spiritual encounter of a lifetime, speaking with Hashem Himself, which Avraham interrupts to welcome guests? Why did he do that?

The sages learn a profound lesson from what Avraham did.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף קכז.

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב גדולה הכנסת אורחין מהקבלת פני שכינה

Rabbi Yehudah quoted Rav who said: Welcoming guests is even greater than having a conversation with Hashem.

What an important lesson!

But who taught this lesson to Avraham? How did Avraham know that this was the correct thing to do? Perhaps, this would constitute a “slap in the face” to Hashem who came to visit him?

The Talmud records a very interesting story that sheds light on this question. It discusses the question of whether a Torah sage may voluntarily forego his personal honor. Perhaps, because he represents the Torah, it is inappropriate for him to act like an ordinary person. To shed light on this question the Talmud relates the following incident.

 

 

תלמוד בבלי מסכת קידושין דף לב:

מעשה ברבי אליעזר ורבי יהושע ורבי צדוק שהיו מסובין בבית המשתה בנו של רבן גמליאל והיה רבן גמליאל עומד ומשקה עליהם נתן הכוס לר’ אליעזר ולא נטלו נתנו לר’ יהושע וקיבלו אמר לו רבי אליעזר מה זה יהושע אנו יושבין ורבן גמליאל ברבי עומד ומשקה עלינו. אמר ליה, “מצינו גדול ממנו ששמש (אברהם גדול ממנו ושמש) אברהם גדול הדור היה, וכתוב בו, ‘והוא עומד עליהם.’ ושמא תאמרו כמלאכי השרת נדמו לו?” לא! נדמו לו אלא לערביים. ואנו לא יהא רבן גמליאל ברבי עומד ומשקה עלינו? אמר להם רבי צדוק, “עד מתי אתם מניחים כבודו של מקום ואתם עוסקים בכבוד הבריות? הקדוש ברוך הוא משיב רוחות ומעלה נשיאים ומוריד מטר ומצמיח אדמה ועורך שולחן לפני כל אחד ואחד ואנו לא יהא רבן גמליאל ברבי עומד ומשקה עלינו?”

Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Tzadok were seated together at the wedding of Rabban Gamliel’s son. Rabban Gamliel, who was the leading sage of the time, was circulating and pouring l’chaims for his guests. Rabban Gamliel offered a drink to Rabbi Eliezer, who refused to accept it. He felt that it was inappropriate that Rabban Gamliel serve him. Rabban Gamliel then offered the cup to Rabbi Yehoshua, who accepted it.

Rabbi Eliezer turned to Rabbi Yehoshua and said to him, “What’s going on with you Yehoshua? We are sitting here, and Rabban Gamliel, such a great rabbi, is waiting on us?

Rabbi Yehoshua responded to Rabbi Eliezer, “We found someone even greater than Rabban Gamliel who waited on people. Avraham Avinu was the greatest Jew in his entire generation, and yet we see that he waited on his guests hand and foot. Maybe you wish to counter by saying that Avraham knew that they were angels? That was clearly not the case. They presented to him like simple desert dwellers. So, it’s okay for Rabban Gamliel to wait on us, which is why I accepted the cup from him.”

At this point Rabbi Tzadok piped up and said,

“You are forgetting the honor of Hashem and occupying yourselves with the honor of mortals. Hashem Himself makes the winds blow to gather the clouds, that bring the rain that makes everything grow. Thus, He sets the table with food for every human being, and Rabban Gamliel can’t wait on us?”

Psalms 89:3 says:

ספר תהילים פרק פט

(ג) כִּי אָמַרְתִּי עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה

Hashem has said: The world is built on lovingkindness.

Avraham Avinu stood in awe and admiration of Hashem for His great kindness. Hashem created this entire universe and everyone in it just to bestow His kindness upon them! We are all the beneficiaries of Hashem’s immense kindness, and Avraham Avinu keenly felt this. Avraham chose his calling by discerning what would be the greatest good that he could do for his fellow man. He determined that to be to do for them what Hashem did for him, to make others aware of Hashem’s goodness so that they could also feel the special sweetness of having a relationship with such a wonderful and kind God.

And how would he accomplish that? By modeling Hashem’s great kindness to the world. When a guest would thank Avraham for his hospitality, after staying in Avraham’s five- star hotel, Avraham would invoke the great host, Hashem. He would explain to them that Hashem is really the ultimate host for all mankind, and that you are really Hashem’s guests in this world. He takes care of all our needs, and you really owe Him, not me, the thanks.

A question remains. Isn’t a person’s purpose in this world to attain spirituality? How could Avraham give up such a spiritually high moment for the mundane task of feeding guests?

A young man visiting Israel found himself in Aish Hatorah. After about six months of studying Torah in the Yeshiva, he notified the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Noach Weinberg, (of blessed memory), that he was leaving. This surprised the Rosh Yeshiva because it seemed like the boy was enjoying his studies. When Rabbi Weinberg ask the young man the reason for his decision,
he replied: “I am interested in attaining spirituality. There is no spirituality here, and I am embarking on a journey to find it!”

Rabbi Weinberg responded, “Would you please just do me one favor? When you find it, please come back and tell me where you found it, because I, too, am very interested in spirituality.”

About six months later, the young man returned to the Yeshiva to report his findings to Rabbi Weinberg.

“Well, where did you find it?” asked the rabbi.

“Rabbi, I traveled all over the world, and I did not find spirituality anywhere!” responded the young man.

To this Rabbi Weinberg asked. “But did you at least see the bavufkas?”

“The what?” he asked.

“The bavufkas!” repeated Rabbi Weinberg.

“What are the bavufkas?” asked the young man.

“You didn’t see the bavufkas!? I can’t believe it! You traveled all over the world and you didn’t even see the bavufkas?” exclaimed an exasperated Rabbi Weinberg.

“Rabbi, if there was a bavufkas standing right next to me I wouldn’t know what it was, so how could I have seen one?!” he responded, somewhat agitated.

To which Rabbi Weinberg said, “And spirituality, you do know what it looks like?”

Many Jews travel to the far east to find spirituality. A life devoid of any physical pleasures, or material possessions, seems to be a very holy and spiritual way of life.

Rodger Kamenetz, the author of The Jew in the Lotus, says, “A third of all Western Buddhist leaders come from Jewish roots.” Half of the participants in the Vipassana meditation retreat near Dharamsala, India, are Israelis. According to one estimate, three out of four Western visitors to the spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism and the seat of the Dalai Lama are Jewish.

Buddhism teaches that to be alive in this world is to suffer. The goal of life is thus to escape the wheel of birth and death. That being the case, everyone should just commit suicide, and get out of their misery. The problem is, that suicide leads only to reincarnation. The only effective way to escape this world is by attaining nirvana, a transcendental state of consciousness that serves as an exit pass from the wheel of birth and death. To attain that transcendental state, one must totally negate his earthy self and meditate numerous times a day to free the mind to reach great spiritual heights. [Suicide?]

But look what happened with Abraham: He was in a most spiritual state, in the presence of the Almighty, but he left it to take care of the guests whom he didn’t even know. Why did he do that? Because Avraham understood that Hashem created us a people, with body and soul. And our goal in life is to be holy people! Not to become a spirit and leave the body behind. Our task rather is to commission the body to do Hashem’s will, and through that make even the body holy. By acting as the agent through which we have served Hashem by doing a mitzvah, our body becomes elevated and sanctified. The more mitzvot we do, the holier the body becomes. The holier the body becomes, the more mitzvot we can do, because the body, in its new state, presents less of a challenge to the soul.

The Torah way of life strikes the perfect balance between a person’s physical and spiritual components.

We live in a world with advocates for both extremes. There is a vast number of people who live only to experience pleasure. They occupy their days with trying to experience the greatest amount of gratification possible. When they get bored of one, they look for another. This keeps life interesting and exciting. But what happens when they get older and those pleasures become more and more elusive? What do they have left?

On the other hand, there are those who say that we should not partake of earthy pleasures for they will prevent us from achieving our elevated spiritual goals. These people live celibate, deficient lives, and never experience the multitude of pleasures that Hashem has put on this world for us to enjoy. When they get older, they, too, realize that what could have been a rich, fulfilling life, was not.

The Torah says, I have put you here to live a most pleasurable life. Eat the most delicious foods (just make sure that they are kosher). Just, before you eat, recognize Hashem as your benefactor by making a blessing on the food, and then thank Him for His kindness by reciting the blessing afterwards. Because this morsel of food has brought you closer to Hashem, the food becomes elevated and holy, and, by eating it, so do you.

Rabbi Yehudah Halevi in the Sefer HaKuzari says a remarkable thing: It is as big a mitzvah to eat delicious foods on Shabbat and Yom Tov as it is to fast on Yom Kippur! Wow.

Yet this is true of all the mitzvot. They employ the use of all our material resources, but because those resources have been commissioned to Hashem’s service, they become sanctified in the process. The entire human being becomes holy. This is what Hashem has created us to be, and Avraham Avinu understood this clearly. This is why he left Hashem’s presence to take care of the guests, and how we learn the lesson that welcoming guests is greater even than having a conversation with Hashem.

To illustrate the concept of a holy body, I present the following. There are numerous documented cases of holy righteous people whose bodies were buried for many years and needed to be exhumed, that were found to be as fresh and supple as the day they were placed in the ground.

This is why the Torah is so rich with mitzvot, and why the performance of mitzvot is so important. Many people say, “I am a good Jew in my heart. I believe in Hashem and I love Him.” That feeling will have no effect on his body, and he will not become holy through it. It is only through engaging the entire person, body and soul, that one can reach the level of holiness that he was put here to achieve.

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