Dedicated Le’ilui Nishmat
Daniel ben Aishe, Danny Zirdok, A'H,
by The Zirdok Family.
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 Nisson 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 individual portions of luxurious cuts of meat.
Angels are completely spiritual beings who 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 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! It didn’t matter that they didn’t eat, the point was that Avraham needed to serve them. The mitzvah of welcoming guests is directed at the giver, not the receiver. 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. But He assigns the actual task of giving to those who will benefit from the act the most.
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. Thus, 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. 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.
When a person carries 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 difficult, and Hashem showed His Hand to me in a way that I was able to clearly understand. 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. Hashem wants to show us that because we did something difficult for us in order to fulfill His Will, we will be rewarded.
We learn from Avraham Avinu and from all these acts that he did, to show our faith in Hashem so that He will acknowledge our efforts. This week’s Zohar takes it a step even further and says that if chas veshalom there’s a decree on someone, Hashem will send him a poor person at a precise moment to give him a merit, so that he might be saved from a possible disaster.
Rabbi Biderman told a story in Torah Wellsprings about a wealthy Jewish businessman who wanted to give some charity so he will have merit in Olam Habah. The wealthy Jew decided to give his money to a pauper who was without any trace of hope.
He began speaking with paupers, asking them how they manage, and none of them had lost hope. One was relying on a wealthy uncle who might help him. Another is planning to find a job, etc. He became frustrated. “Can't I find someone who has lost hope?” Then he saw someone dressed in rags, sitting on top of a garbage
heap, rummaging for something to eat. Can there be anyone poorer than him? he thought. This person has certainly lost all hope.
He gave him a hundred silver coins. The pauper asked, “Why did you give me so much money?” The wealthy man said, “I made a vow that I will give a lot of money to the pauper who has lost all hope.” The pauper replied,
“Only a fool loses hope. I didn’t lose hope. I trust in Hashem, Who “raises the poor out of the garbage heap (Tehillim 113:7). If Hashem wills it, nothing can prevent Him from making me wealthy.”
The wealthy man realized that he will never find a person who lost all hope, so he dug a pit in the cemetery and hid his money there. The wheel of fortune turned. Eventually, this wealthy man became very poor, and he went from door to door, collecting food and money. He suddenly remembered that he once buried a large sum of
money in the cemetery. So, he went to the cemetery and started digging, but then the police arrived. He was arrested and brought before the mayor.
He explained to the mayor that he was once wealthy, and now that he is poor, he collects door-to-door. He remembered that he hid funds in the cemetery, and he was digging there to retrieve them. The mayor asked, “Don't you remember me? Years ago, you found me in the garbage heap, rummaging around for food. I told you that I trust in Hashem. I told you that if He wills it, He can make me wealthy. Now look at where my bitachon brought me!”
Because Hashem can do anything and everything, if we trust in Him, we will enjoy His salvation. This lesson was taught to us from the beginning of our nation. According to nature, Avraham and Sarah couldn’t have children. Klal Yisrael could never be. But if Hashem wills it, miracles can happen beyond nature.
Against Our Instincts
Later, at the end of Parashat Vayera, Hashem tells Avraham to sacrifice his only son Yitzchak. Avraham, being a man of chessed, had to go completely against his nature. He intended to fulfill Hashem’s request without hesitation, unaware that it was only a test. As the children of Avraham, we are still benefiting from his merit from this mitzvah until this very day! Just as Avraham drew the sword to sacrifice his son, an angel appeared to him and told him not to proceed with the slaughter, as this was merely a test.
The question arises as to why this command was such a crucial test for Avraham Avinu. Yitzchak was 37 years old at the time of the akedah. He was not a young boy forced into this by his father. Wasn’t this a test for him, as well? Why is Akedat Yitzchak presented as a test more for Avraham, than Yitzchak?
One explanation is that this was a test specifically for Avraham, because he had arrived at the belief in G-d on his own through logical reasoning. In a world that believed in idols, Avraham, in his profound wisdom and intelligence, recognized through logic that there must be a single Creator. Avraham’s great test was fulfilling G-d’s command that seemed wholly illogical. G-d had earlier promised to produce a great nation from Yitzchak, and now He told him to kill him.
This defied all logic, and thus naturally challenged Avraham’s entire approach of arriving at his belief through logic. His obedience to the Divine Command demonstrated that he was committed to G-d not only when logic dictated following His laws, but even when His laws seem illogical.
But there is also another reason why this test was unique to Avraham. The Vilna Gaon taught that a person’s task in this world is to overcome his innate tendencies. We are to identify our areas of personal weakness and work toward improving ourselves in those very areas. Thus, for example, a person who is naturally a glutton and enjoys overindulging in food should focus on moderating his food intake. A naturally short-tempered person has the responsibility to fight against this tendency and be patient and tolerant of other people. We are not here to just accept our nature, to resign ourselves to the character flaws with which we are created. Rather, our primary job during our lifetime is to break our nature, to perfect the flawed areas of our personality.
Avraham, as we know, was naturally kind and generous. His outstanding quality was chessed, as expressed by his hospitality and in his plea on behalf of the wicked city of Sedom. He naturally loved and cared for all people. The test of Akedat Yitzchak required Avraham to go against that instinct in the most extreme way possible. There is nothing crueler and more heartless than killing one’s son. The command of Akedat Yitzchak was necessary for Avraham to show that he was prepared to obey G-d’s commands even when they directly opposed his most basic, innate instincts. This test was required to show that Avraham was devoted to G-d no matter how strongly he was naturally disinclined to obey His command.
This insight into the akedah is relevant to many different areas of life. We have a natural tendency to not admit to making a mistake. In marriage, especially, this inclination must be broken. Marriage requires us to hear another perspective and admit when it’s more correct than ours, something which is very difficult to do because it goes against one of our most natural tendencies. There is no such thing as “This is just the way I am.” If this is the way we are, then our job is precisely to change that very nature. If a man as kind as Avraham could obey G-d’s command to slaughter his son, then certainly we can break our instincts toward anger, obstinacy, and so on. We can improve the flawed areas of our characters, to continuously work towards rising closer to perfection.
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. May we learn from Avraham and Yitzchak to do mitzvot wholeheartedly and with immense joy, especially if they go against our nature.
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
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