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Parshas Vayeira - Vol. 6,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Vayisa einav vayar v’hinei shlosha anashim Nitzavim alav vayar vayaratz likrasam mipesach haohel vayishtachu artza … yukach na me’at mayim … v’ekcha pas lechem v’sa’adu libchem (18:2-5)
Avrohom excelled in the mitzvah of hosting guests. Three days after he had circumcised himself at the age of 99, Hashem didn’t want Avrohom to burden himself with caring for guests. He brought a heat wave to deter all travelers on that day. Still, the weak Avrohom’s greatest concern was that the unusually hot weather would deny him the merit of welcoming guests. Avrohom decided to sit at the entrance of his tent in the hopes that he might spy a stray traveler.
When Hashem saw Avrohom’s suffering over the lack of guests, He sent three angels in the guise of people. Rejoicing at this improbable turn of events, the elderly and weak Avrohom ran to personally invite them to his home to serve them. Avrohom proceeded to serve them a lavish and abundant feast with one exception: although he was generous with all of the other courses, he instructed that only a small amount of water be brought for them. As caring for guests was Avrohom’s raison d’être and he was so generous with all of the other portions, why was he so stingy when it came to the water?
The following story will help us answer this question. On one of his travels, Rav Yisroel Salanter spent Shabbos in a small village. The locals were excited about the opportunity to host the renowned Rabbi in their community and to learn from his pious ways. When the time came to wash his hands prior to the meal, his hosts were surprised to notice that he used a very small amount of water.
Worried that they had done something wrong or offended the Rav in some way, they respectfully asked for an explanation of his behavior. Rav Yisroel explained that the water in this village was drawn from a distant well. Carrying the water over this long distance was a very difficult task. Although he was normally accustomed to washing his hands with more water in the legally preferable manner, in this case it would be inappropriate to do so at the expense of the water-carrier.
In light of this story, the Darkei Mussar explains that almost all of the preparations for the meal were performed by Avrohom. The actions which he did on behalf of the guests were done with great alacrity and revealed a giving spirit. The water, on the other hand, was the one item which Avrohom asked somebody else to bring. As much as he wanted to offer the guests generous portions, he understood, as did Rav Yisroel, that it would be inappropriate to do so at someone else’s expense.
The commandments are traditionally divided into two categories: those between man and Hashem, and those between man and his fellow man. As piety is often associated with the mitzvos in the first group, it is sadly all too easy and natural for somebody wishing to demonstrate his religious devotion to emphasize this type at the expense of the commandments governing our interpersonal relationships. In reality, our forefather Avrohom teaches us that true piety requires recognizing that both classes emanate equally from Hashem and must be balanced accordingly.
Vayomer Hashem el Avrohom lamah zeh tzachaka Sorah leimor ha’af umnam eileid v’ani zakanti (18:13)
Upon hearing the blessing of the angels that she would merit to give birth to a child one year later, Sorah laughed in wondrous disbelief and questioned how she and her elderly husband could possibly conceive a child. Hashem responded by challenging Avrohom regarding Sorah’s lack of belief in His ability to perform miracles. Why did Hashem question Avrohom regarding his wife’s behavior instead of rebuking Sorah directly?
When Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was a young boy, his father (the Beis HaLevi) hired for him a private teacher to allow him to diligently progress in his Torah learning. The tutor quickly recognized the genius of his student and was eager to show off the young prodigy. As the teacher was a chossid of the Slonimer Rebbe, he decided to take his protégé to visit his Rebbe.
After they entered and were seated, the Slonimer Rebbe gave an apple to the young Chaim, who proceeded to take a voracious bite without first making a blessing. The Rebbe voiced his disapproval to his chossid, noting that if he were a better teacher, his student would understand the importance of reciting a blessing before eating. The young Chaim rejoined by passing the buck one step higher and impudently suggesting that if the Rebbe were on a higher level, his chassidim would be better teachers, who in turn would have better students.
The Darkei Mussar similarly suggests that Hashem understood that Sorah’s knowledge and beliefs were learned from Avrohom. If she demonstrated a deficiency in her emunah and bitachon (faith and trust), she must have subconsciously picked it up through observing Avrohom. It was for this reason that Hashem transferred the ultimate blame to Avrohom and approached him to demand an explanation.
V’Hashem pakad es Sorah ka’asher amar vaya’as Hashem l’Sorah ka’asher dibeir (21:1)
Rashi writes that the section recounting Sorah’s conception of Yitzchok is juxtaposed to Avrohom’s prayers that Avimelech’s wife and maids be able to conceive (20:17-18) to teach that if a person prays on behalf of somebody else when he himself needs that same thing, he will be answered first. A man once approached Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein with a fascinating question about this concept.
It is traditionally understood that this procedure works as a reward for the selflessness demonstrated by somebody who desperately needs something himself, yet is able to magnanimously overlook his own personal needs to pray for another person in need of that very same thing. The man questioned whether this technique will still be effective when a person needs something and knows of somebody else who needs the same thing and prays for that person only out of a hope that doing so will cause him to be answered, or must the prayers for the other be genuine in order for this method to work?
Rav Zilberstein answered based on the Maharal’s explanation of this idea. The Maharal writes that Hashem is the source of all blessings which come to the world. However, in order for His blessings to descend upon a person, there must be a conduit which connects that person to the Heavenly source of goodness and facilitates the transfer. One such channel is prayer. When we pray to Hashem, we connect ourselves to Him and allow Him to bestow His bounty upon us. When one prays on behalf of another and his prayers are answered, he becomes the channel which links his friend to the Divine source of blessing.
When a person uses a hose to water his lawn, the hose – which serves as the conduit for the transfer of water – becomes wet even before the grass does. Similarly, a person who merits serving as the medium by which Hashem bestows His kindness upon another becomes “wet” with the goodness even before it reaches its ultimate target. Therefore, although it may be contrary to conventional wisdom, the power of prayer is so great that one who prays for his friend – even for ulterior motives – will still merit to be answered first.
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (18:8) that although Avrohom had requested Sorah to make bread, it wasn’t served because it became impure when Sorah touched it, and the Gemora in Bava Metzia (87a) teaches that Avrohom was careful to eat all of his food in a state of ritual purity. Although Avrohom observed this stringency, why did he impose it on the guests and deny them the opportunity to enjoy the bread? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Pardes Yosef, Peninim Vol. 6, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
2) The angel which informed Sorah that she would merit to bear a child promised that he would return to visit them later, at which time Sorah would have a child (18:10). Where do we find that the angel ever returned? (Tosefos Rid)
3) Because she violated she commandment (19:17) not to look back at the destruction of Sodom, Lot’s wife was punished and turned into a pillar of salt (19:26). Was her punishment considered a unique punishment for violating the specific command against looking back at Sodom, or by looking back did she lose her merit to be saved and was therefore destroyed as part of the more general decree to wipe out Sodom? (Biurei Mahar”i, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Tzafnas Paneiach)
4) Tosefos writes (Shabbos 130a) that Avrohom made a festive meal on the day of Yitzchok’s circumcision (21:8). If a person is invited to attend a circumcision and a pidyon haben (redemption of the first-born son) which are occurring at the same time and he may attend only one, to which one should he go? (Shu”t Shraga HaMeir 2:89, Bishvilei HaParsha)
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