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Parashat Vayera

Dedicated In Memory of Halfon and Rose Cabasso

Parashat Vayera

Parashat Vayera begins with Avraham recovering from the berit mila that Hashem had commanded him to carry out on himself and his household. On the third day after the berit, when the pain was at its worst, that Hashem visited Avraham to honor him for carrying out the mitzva and to acknowledge that he had elevated himself to a new spiritual level.

Hachnasat Orchim

Parashat Vayera shows the epitome of hachnasat orchim (hospitality). Avraham excelled at this mitzva. He was a master of kindness and a host par excellence.

Rabbi Frand quotes Rav Nissan Alpert zt”l, who offered a number of beautiful insights into the mitzva of hachnasat orchim which can be derived from this parasha. Rashi explains that to provide Avraham some respite from guests after his recent mila, G-d made it an exceptionally hot day so that no one would be traveling on the roads.

However, Avraham was distressed that he had no guests to offer hospitality to. Therefore, G-d sent him three angels in disguise. Angels are completely spiritual beings who do not need to eat, and could not eat the meal that Avraham provided for them. They only pretended to eat the food.

If Avraham was so distressed at a lack of guests to feed, so then why did Hashem send him guests who were angels who could not really eat? He could have just made a thunderstorm to lower the temperature. Then people would have resumed their travels. A poor person would inevitably have come down the road, and Avraham could have invited him in for a meal. This seems more logical than wasting Avraham’s supreme efforts to prepare a gourmet meal for angels who only pretended to eat!

It’s Not for Them, It’s for You

This incident teaches us about the nature of hospitality. Contrary to what we may think, hachnasat orchim is not so much for the benefit of the guests. Rather, it for the benefit of the host! The mitzva is directed at the giver, not the receiver. More than the host providing for the guests, it is the guests who provides for the host.

Hashem has His ways regarding charity and acts of kindness. If someone needs food, G-d will get it to him. If an individual or an institution needs money, G-d will ensure they are taken care of. Hashem has His ways. The only question is who will have the merit of providing the hesed or charity.

This is why the primary example of hachnasat orchim in the Torah is regarding Avraham feeding the angels, who did not even need food because they weren’t human. The lesson is that we must always remember that we are the ones who need this mitzva. We should not think that we are doing our guests such a big favor. Ultimately the guest is doing the favor for us. Jews have the DNA of hesed passed down through the generations from Avraham. All Jews have an innate need to always be helping others from the more secular Jews who give money to build hospitals or other hesed organization like Hatazolah, Bikur Holim etc., the list is endless. On the other hand, we also see in this parasha how Lot learned from his uncle Avraham and tried to do hesed with the angel that came to visit him in Sodom. Lot tried to protect the angel (disguised as his guest) from the mob by giving them his two daughters instead. As Lot says to the mob (19;8) “See, now, I have two daughters who have never known a man I shall bring them out to you and do to them as you please; but to these men do nothing inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.” How crazy is this that Lot was willing to give his young innocent daughters to this angry mob in order to protect his guests. We have to know that doing hesed must be mitigated with the guidance and the direction of the Torah otherwise it isn’t true hesed. We can’t think that by giving money to save the whales or to the monkeys in Africa that we’re doing a Torah hesed while there are Jews that don’t have food to eat or Yeshivot that can’t pay their teachers salaries.

Or HaHayyim adds something else to this, that when people carry out great deeds, Hashem shows himself to that person to acknowledge that individual for recognizing Hashem in a difficult time.

I can personally remember many times when I did something that was difficult for me and Hashem showed this principle to me in a way that I was able to understand clearly. One time, a Rabbi who needed to raise money for his yeshivah came to visit me in my office. He asked me for an amount that I felt was more than I would be willing to give. But I felt deeply for his cause, so I decided to push myself to accommodate his request. I distinctly remember going back from the conference room where we were meeting to my office to get my checkbook.

It was at that exact moment that a call came in from a person whom I’d been speaking to about purchasing life insurance. I picked up the phone and the person calling said: “Hi Jack, I’m ready to buy that insurance plan we’ve been discussing, when can we meet?”

Right then I saw clearly how Hashem rewarded me on the spot for doing that mitzva. The connection was so obvious to me.

Big Rewards

Hashem wants to show us that because we did something that was difficult for us, we will be rewarded. He says, I will reward you quickly so that you will understand that I recognize your sacrifice of going above and beyond in order to do that mitzva that was difficult for you.

To illustrate this idea even further, Rabbi Prague told us a story that took place when he was visiting some friends in Russia, back in the ‘80’s, when Russia was still under communist rule. He told us of the mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) that the Jews there lived with. They had to walk for hours in the freezing cold to find a secret minyan where they could pray. They were always worried that they might get caught, but they were determined to do Hashem’s will.

Many years later, when they were liberated from Russia and living in Israel where they were able to keep Shabbat and the mitzvot without fear, Rabbi Prague told them that he was jealous of them. He explained that even though now they were free, living in Israel, and obviously didn’t have to undergo the same hardship in order to keep the mitzvot; for the rest of their lives they would be rewarded as if they were still living under those harsh conditions that they had endured in their past.

Poor People Will Save You’re life

This week’s Zohar takes it a step even further and says that if has veshalom there’s a decree on a person whom Hashem loves, He will send him a poor person at the precise moment needed in order to give him a merit to be saved from disaster.

There’s a well-known story of a wealthy businessman whose office was on one of the top floors of the twin towers. An old man who usually collected charity from him called him on the morning of Sept 11th, 2001 from the lobby to get permission to pick up a tzedaka check from him. The businessman realized that it may be a little difficult for the older man to come up to his office, so he decided to take the time and effort to bring the check down to him in the lobby instead. As he was in the lobby meeting with the old man was the precise moment when the first plane hit that tower! We can see how Hashem sent this old man at exactly the right time in order to give the businessman the merit that ultimately saved his life.

Later, at the end of the parasha, this theme continues as Hashem tells Avraham to sacrifice his only son Yitzhak. Avraham, being the giant of hesed that he was, had to go totally against his nature. He set out intending to fulfil Hashem’s request without hesitation, unaware that it was only a test. We as the children of Avraham are still benefiting from this merit until this very day!

May we all learn from our forefather Avraham Avinu to always look for ways to do mitzvot as the Torah commands us, which of course includes helping another Jew in need no matter how difficult it may be. We all have times in our lives when we make decisions to do mitzvot that are difficult for us. We have to know that those acts don’t go unnoticed. Furthermore, for the rest of our lives, whenever we do that mitzva we will get rewarded as much as we were the first time we did it, when it was so much more difficult for us.

Discussion Points:

· What mitzva was hard for us to start doing, but is easier now?

· Did we ever see how giving tzedaka or doing hachnasat orchim ended up helping us?

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

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