Dedicated Le'ilui Nishmat Yaffa Bat Mazal, Linda Falack A'h by her grandchildren
Aaron, Barbara, Eddie, Rachel, Susan, and Judah Regev
and Harry, Yvonne, Sam, and Aaron Catton
Parashat Vayera begins with Avraham recovering from the brit milah that Hashem had commanded him to carry out on himself and his household. On the third day after the brit, when the pain was at its worst, Hashem visited Avraham to honor him for carrying out the mitzvah and to acknowledge that Avraham had elevated himself to a new spiritual level.
Parashat Vayera illustrates the concept of hachnasat orchim (hospitality), which Avraham Avinu demonstrated often. He was a master of kindness and a host that went above and beyond.
Rabbi Frand quotes Rav Nissan Alpert zt”l, who offered beautiful insight into the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, which can be derived from this parasha. Rashi explains that to provide Avraham some respite from guests after his recent milah, 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 his hospitality. Therefore, G-d sent him three angels in disguise. Avraham welcomed the unfamiliar men into his home with open arms, slaughtering an animal for each of his guests, so they can all have their own individual portions of luxurious cuts of meat.
However, 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 from his lack of guests to feed, why did Hashem send him guests who did not really have that capability? Hashem could have made a thunderstorm to lower the temperature, a poor person would have inevitably come down the road, and Avraham would 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!
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’s for the benefit of the host! The mitzvah is directed at the giver, not the receiver. The host may provide for the guest, but the guest provides for the host as well.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people who need assistance with food, shelter, or financials. The only question is to whom Hashem will grant the merit to do the chessed or give charity. Therefore, the primary example of hachnasat orchim in the Torah is the story of Avraham feeding the angels, who did not even need food because they weren’t human. We must always remember that we are the ones who need this mitzvah, not the recipients. The guest is doing us a favor, not the other way around.
The Jewish people have the chessed gene directly passed down through the generations from Avraham. All Jews have an innate need to help others, from the more secular Jews who give generous donations to fund hospitals, to the endless list of community chessed organizations like Hatzalah, Sephardic Bikur Holim, and the Sephardic Food Fund.
Or HaHayim adds 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 His Hand 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 able 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 policy we’ve been discussing, when can we meet?” Right then I saw clearly how Hashem rewarded me on the spot for doing that mitzvah. The connection was so obvious to me.
Rabbi David Ashear tells a story in Living Emunah 3 about an amazing outcome after a young boy sacrificed something very important to him. In 2004 Rav Elyashiv zt’l, at the age of 94, was admitted to the intensive care unit in Israel, with imminent danger to his life. A top physician, Dr. Daniel Clair, was flown in from the United States to perform a multi-hour surgery to save the Rabbi’s life. Baruch Hashem, it was deemed a success. The Rabbi was required to stay in the hospital over Shabbat, and a minyan with a sefer Torah was organized in his hospital room. On Shabbat, the men belatedly realized they forgot to arrange for a baal koreh to read from the Torah scroll. They went around the hallways, looking for someone to read for them.
A young boy, who was staying with his mother who was very ill, said he knew how to read this parasha. He was brought to the gadol hador’s hospital room and read the parasha for him and the minyan beautifully. Rav Elyashiv was extremely grateful and wanted to bless this boy’s mother for a refuah shelemah. The mother was brought to the Rabbi, and he gave her a heartfelt blessing for a speedy recovery.
The woman began to cry. She explained that her son had come into the world as a result of an earlier beracha she had received from Rav Elyashiv years earlier. She had been childless for many years, and after receiving this blessing, she was granted her greatest gift from Hashem, this boy.
She also explained why her son knew how to read the parasha so well and without advanced notice. It was his bar mitzvah parasha, which he had spent months preparing. However, due to a mix-up with the shul, another boy had prepared the same parasha for his bar mitzvah. This young boy conceded and allowed the other boy to read the entire parasha instead of him. It was a tremendous sacrifice for him, and it seemed like all his studying would be for nothing. However, a couple of years later, Hashem arranged that this boy would be the one to read this very parasha for the gadol hador in his time of need and receive a blessing for his mother, who subsequently recovered completely!!
Hashem sees everything we do and pays us back for our good deeds, at the right time. Giving to others is such a precious way to serve Hashem, and it is a beautiful lesson to ingrain in our children from a young age.
Chessed Will Save Your Life
This week’s Zohar takes it a step even further and says that if has veshalom there’s a bad decree on a person who Hashem loves, He will send him a person in need at a precise moment in order to give him a merit to be saved from disaster.
Rabbi Paysach Krohn told a story about how the chessed of two volunteers saved someone’s life. One Friday afternoon an hour before Shabbat leading straight into a holiday, a man from Chaverim got an urgent call to change a flat tire. He asked the caller, “Where are you located? Are you stuck on the Garden State Parkway?” The man calmly answered, “No, my car is in my driveway.” The man in Chaverim was so upset, feeling as if he was being taken advantage of so close to Shabbat. He voiced his concerns, and the caller replied, “I’m on Hatzalah, and I might need my car over the holiday.” The man from Chaverim was filled with shame for his misjudgment, and he quickly went to the caller’s address to fix the tire before sunset.
Over the holiday, the man from Chaverim was sitting at his table with his extended family. During the meal, his mother in-law fell off her chair; she was having a stroke. Someone rushed to the phone to call for Hatzalah, and the person on call was the very same man who had his tire fixed the day before! He saved this man’s mother in-law. At a time where every second counts, chessed is so essential, it’s lifesaving.
Later, at the end of parashat Vayera, this theme continues as Hashem tells Avraham to sacrifice his only son Yitzchak. Avraham, being the man of chessed that he was, had to go completely against his nature. He set out intending to fulfill Hashem’s request without hesitation, unaware that it was only a test. We, as the children of Avraham, are still benefiting from his merit from this mitzvah until this very day!
In his book Classics & Beyond, Rabbi Avraham Bukspan asks a question. Why was the event called Akedat Yitzchak—the binding of Yitzchak, and not for instance, Aliyat Yitzchak—the raising of Yitzchak? The fact that Yitzchak was bound to the mizbe’ach seems trivial compared to the valor he demonstrated in his willingness to give up his life for Hashem. Shouldn’t the title of this momentous event reflect that?
The Yalkut Shimoni cites two reasons why Yitzchak had requested to be bound. He was determined not to move from mortal fear, so as not to become a baal mum—unfit sacrifice, and so he would not accidentally kick Avraham, thereby not honoring his father. If Yitzchak had reflexively kicked his father before making the ultimate sacrifice for Hashem, surely his offense would have been immediately forgiven. However, that is the greatness of the title “Akedat Yitzchak.” The specific request Yitzchak made to be bound and immobilized shows us how Yitzchak Avinu lived during his life and during his attempt to sacrifice it, with honor, faith, and greatness, like his father, Avraham. The gemara emphasizes their relationship, and the honor between the father and son, saying, “Amar HaKadosh Baruch Hu tiku lefanai bashofar shel ayil, kedei she’ezkor lachem Akedat Yitzchak ben Avraham—Hashem said, sound before Me a ram’s horn so I will remember on your behalf the Binding of Yitzchak, the son of Avraham (Rosh Hashanah 16a).”
We must understand that when we do chessed, we must not be so focused on the good deed itself to forget the essential Torah laws, which would defeat the purpose. Yitzchak performed an amazing feat, attempting to make the ultimate sacrifice for Hashem, and he did so without neglecting one of the foundations of Torah and mitzvot.
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 must know that those acts don’t go unnoticed. Furthermore, for the rest of our lives, whenever we do that mitzvah, even if it is no longer difficult, we will get rewarded as much as the first time we did it during challenging times. May we learn from Avraham and Yitzchak to do mitzvot wholeheartedly and with immense joy.
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Do we do make an effort to do chessed for people during difficult times in our lives?
The concept of hachnasat orchim—welcoming guests is introduced in this parasha when Avraham hosts three angels just three days after his brit milah.
Though it may be difficult, it is essential we do chessed even in challenging times, because it is just as much for the giver’s merit than the receiver’s acceptance of a favor or charity. After all, it could be lifesaving.
The reason Akedat Yitzchak is called “the binding of Yitzchak” is because Yitzchak specifically requested to be bound so he would not involuntarily kick Avraham during a moment of fear. By asking for this, he did not deviate from the path of honoring his father and fulfilling mitzvot, even during the ultimate sacrifice.
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