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Hashem appeared to him ( Avraham) in the plains of Mamre. He was sitting at the entrance to the tent during the hottest part of the day. (18:1)
Rashi states that Hashem visited Avraham on the third day after his Bris Milah, which is the most painful time. What is the significance of this? Avraham enjoyed fulfilling the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim, welcoming wayfarers, all of the time. He treated everyone with ultimate respect.
Why does the Torah emphasize the fact that it was the third day? Kehillas Yitzchak derives from here an important and timely lesson. The Torah is stressing the love Avraham manifested for performing chesed. He could have easily deferred himself from this mitzvah, as this was the third day after his circumcision. He could have relied upon the priniciple of "osek b'mitzvah patur min ha'mitzvah," one who is involved in performing one mitzvah is exempt from simultaneously doing a second mitzvah. Frequently, people who are involved in "great" acts of chesed have limited "time" to address routine acts of kindness.
Avraham Avinu modeled for us the way to do chesed. He was involved in a pivotal mitzvah, the only one that Hashem commanded directly to him. He had waited for Hashem to instruct him to perform this mitzvah. He was in the third day after his circumcision, a day of intense pain. He had just cause to exempt himself from taking care of the everyday greeting of wayfarers. Not Avraham. He went to the door of the tent during the heat of the day, looking for people for whom to do chesed. This was the Patriarch who is the paradigm of chesed.
What an important lesson for us. We are involved in so many mitzvos. We are helping communities, saving the world, raising the banner of Yiddishkeit. Do we, however, sacrifice the everyday chesed of the fellow around the corner, the widow down the block, the young boy or girl who has no one to whom to turn, on the altar of communal mitzvos? When we are out saving the world, do we still have time for the "little guy," or is that outside our scope of chesed? Avraham Avinu found time for everyone. Every individual was a priority to him. Should we be any different?
Avraham had a disciple in the middah, character trait, of chesed; Lot, his nephew. We find identical pesukim addressing the manner in which Avraham greeted his guests and the way in which Lot greeted them. Avraham arose and ran towards his visitors. Lot arose and bowed down to greet them. Avraham served them a large dinner; Lot made a great feast for his visitors. Lot was even willing to risk his life to protect his guests. Yet, Chazal do not view Lot’s behavior or his actions in the most positive light. Why? What did he do that was different?
Horav Levi Yitzchak zl, m'Berditchev explains that the distinction lies in attitude. Avraham Avinu looked outside and saw three men; Lot saw angels. Avraham was willing to help anyone, regardless of his background or stature; Lot reached out to angels. Lot was particular about whom he helped. They had to meet his "standards." He did not reach out to the ordinary person. He only ministered to the distinguished; he performed the "exotic" forms of chesed. That is not true chesed. Lot was helping himself, assuaging his own ego, making himself feel important. That is the type of chesed typical of Sodom.
When the water from the skin was consumed, she cast off the boy beneath one of the trees...for she said lest I see in the death of the child. (21:15)
Hagar was in great pain. She could not stand to see what was happening to her son, who was dying of thirst. What did she do? She turned away. She cared more for herself than for her child. This is not the Jewish way. We do not run away from a tzarah, distress. If someone is ill, we do not forsake them. We remain with them, giving them hope, encouragement, strength and succor. We believe that we experience tzarah for a reason. We address the tzarah while we identify and "correct" the cause. Nachlas Tzvi cites an insightful analogy that clarifies the Jewish attitude towards tzaros. He asks: Why is it that when we strike a horse, it runs quicker? Indeed, the more we hit it, the faster it runs. The reason is that the horse "thinks" that it can run away from the lashes of the whip. The animal foolishly sees only the whip, not the individual who is striking it. The more it runs, the faster it attempts to escape, taking along its rider. The horse’s myopic vision does not permit it to see beyond the whip.
A similar idea applies to man. When people see that tzaros are beating down on them, when distress afflicts them, they attempt to run, thinking they can escape the pain. If only they would realize that the source of their pain is Hashem, Who is with them for the duration of their journey on this world. The only possibility for ending the tzarah is to turn to Hashem in repentance and supplication in the hope that He will listen to our pleas.
A Jew once came to the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, weeping brokenheartedly, "Rebbe, I have so many tzaros; I do not know how to escape from my overwhelming misfortunes." The Rebbe responded, citing the Talmud Pesachim 115b where Chazal say, One who swallows matzoh (without chewing it) fullfills the mitzvah; one who swallows marror, does not fullfill the mitzvah. “The reason for this”, said the Rebbe, “is that one must taste and experience the bitterness of the bitter herbs, so that it will bring him to realize the depth of pain and affliction to which we were subjected. This will evoke feelings of teshuvah within him. We do not run from Hashem's therapy.”
He ran toward them from the entrance of the tent... (18:2)
Avraham came forward and said, "Will You also stamp out the righteous along with the wicked? (18:23)
And G-d tested Avraham. (22:1)
In our Parsha we see Avraham from three different perspectives: We see him as the paradigm of gemillas chesed, kindness, reaching out to all wayfarers. We see him using everything in his power to save the evil inhabitants of Sodom. Last, we see him going to the Akeidah with conviction, ready and willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice - his son. On the one hand, he is reaching out to a world of pagans, bringing them into his home, sustaining them both physically and spiritually. On the other hand, he is prepared to slaughter his son. Where is his "rachamei av," fatherly compassion, especially in light of his overwhelming prayers for the wicked citizens of Sodom? How do these three aspects of Avraham's behavior coincide with each other?
In his sefer "Eilah Ha'devarim," Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita cites Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, who posits that three ideas/behaviors are essential prerequisites for every Jew. He homiletically interprets this into the Mishnah in Meseches Shabbos 2:7 which says, “Three things one should say on Erev Shabbos as it gets dark: ‘Asartem?’ ‘Did you tithe, take Maaser from the foods?’ ‘Eiravtem?’ ‘Did you make an Eiruv, allowing people to carry on Shabbos? ‘Hadliku es ha'neir?’ ‘Did you light the candle so that people can walk freely and safely?’” He asserts that “Asartem?” “Did you tithe?” implies that one should have the knowledge to distinguish between holy and mundane, between sacred and profane. He should know how to remove the sacred from the mundane, the spiritual from the material. Accordingly, the concept of division, between what is mine and what is not mine is addressed with the term, “Eiravtem?” “Did you make an eiruv?”: symbolizing togetherness, bringing people together. The word "eiruv" also signifies arvus, collective responsibility for one's fellowman, realizing that one's actions, good or bad, have an effect on others. “Hadliku es ha'neir?” “Did you light the candle?”: one must light up the way, illuminate a path so that he does not stumble upon hidden obstacles.
These three foundations were inherent in Avraham Avinu's actions and personality. His "hachnosas orchim," welcoming wayfarers, symbolized his exemplary acts of loving kindness to all people that were deserving. He was able to delineate between those that were sincere and those that were deceptive, between those who were l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, and those who were not. Hence, he fulfilled the "Asartem," knowing when and how to separate the good from the bad, the holy from the mundane. Seeking zechusim, merits, for the people of Sodom was Avraham's way of demonstrating concern and responsibility for his fellowman. His sense of achrayos, responsibility, urged him to ask for and seek that “one tzaddik, righteous person in the city of evil”. Thus, he fulfilled his obligation of eiravtem, sense of communal accountability. Last, his conviction and willingness to sacrifice his son at Hashem's command "lit the candle," illuminating the path for all Jews throughout the ages. Jewish life is replete with mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, an attribute that was demonstrated for us by Avraham Avinu.
Please take your son...and go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there as an offering upon one of the mountains... (22:2)
The mountain on which the Akeidah took place, Har Ha'Moriah, was the future site of the Bais Hamikdash. The Divrei Chaim notes that two mountains played a pivotal role in Klal Yisrael's history: Har Sinai, upon which the Torah was given; and Har Ha'Moriah, the site of the Bais Hamikdash. He wonders why the Bais Hamikdash was built on Har Ha'Moriah, rather than on Har Sinai. Would it not have been appropriate that the mountain which had been sanctified by the giving of the Torah should be the setting for the building of the Bais Hamikdash? He explains that a place where a Jew had stretched out his neck in submission to the Almighty, prepared and willing to give up his life to become a sacrifice to Hashem, is truly the place most suited for the Bais Hamikdash. A Jew offering his life in devotion to Hashem sanctifies a place even more than the Giving of the Torah.
This is a powerful statement. It does, however, raise a question: Why did not Hashem give the Torah on Har HaMoriah? If Akeidas Yitzchak consecrated this mountain, then it certainly should be an appropriate setting for the Revelation and the Giving of the Torah. We suggest that perhaps the Divrei Chaim's answer has a deeper meaning. The Torah's permanence in Klal Yisrael is inextricably related to its capacity to be transmitted from one generation to another. While we will find fathers who are devoted to Torah study to the point of personal self-sacrifice, how many are prepared to demand the same level of commitment from their children? How many parents impose hardship upon their precious children, so that they will study Torah? How many understand that mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, is an inherent component of Torah study? How many understand that to succeed in Torah one must give up an element of materialism and be willing to undergo hardship - and to demand this of their children?
Avraham Avinu taught us what it means to take an only child and prepare him for shechitah, slaughter, because Hashem had asked for this. True, the Torah was given on Har Sinai - but it is Har HaMoriah that made sure it is still with us. On Har Sinai, we received the Torah. On Har HaMoriah, we learned that the only way we will keep this Torah is if fathers are willing to impose upon their children and make demands of them. Many years ago, some of us thought that by placing their children in a yeshivah/day school they would be depriving them, making too many demands of them. Regrettably, those children have become estranged from our people. The disservice their parents did to them haunts them today.
And an angel of Hashem called to him from Heaven, and said, "Avraham, Avraham!" and he said, "Here I am!" (22:11)
During the beginning of the chassidic movement, a serious conflict ensued between the misnagdim, those that were anti-Chassidus, and those that followed and revered the great chassidic leaders of their time. The misnagdim, who sincerely felt that the chassidic movement was manipulating the minds of its followers, went to extremes to prevent their influence from spreading. They would often resort to imposing a cherem, excommunication, against the "factions" of chassidim. The story is told that they once sent a ksav cherem, letter of excommunication, to Horav Refael M'Hamburg, zl, a distinguished scholar and leader, requesting that he affix his signature to this letter. In the note that accompanied this ksav cherem they wrote that even the great "rav who is compared to an angel of G-d," the Gaon M'Vilna, had agreed to sign his name to their letter.
Rav Refael responded to their request by citing Hashem's "dialogue" with Avraham prior to the Akeidah. He said, "When Hashem commanded Avraham to sacrifice his son, He did not send an angel; He spoke personally to Avraham. When someone's life is in the balance, when a father is asked to sacrifice his only child, a malach, angel, is not sent. Conversely, when Hashem told Avraham to refrain from slaughtering Yitzchak, He sent an angel. To save a life, a malach suffices. While the Gaon, the gadol ha'dor, greatest Torah scholar of our generation, may truly be compared to a malach, when someone's life is in question, it is not enough for me."
This story and the "vort" have received much acclaim over the years. The question that remains to be asked is: Do we think about what Rav Refael said when we disparage someone whose beliefs do not necessarily coincide with ours? Do we think twice before we resort to character assassination? If Rav Refael refused to sign a letter that the gadol ha'dor had signed because he was concerned about the effect it would have on another Jew, we should at least not be so hasty as to call another Jew names that should be reserved for the lowest of the low. All too often, we enjoy the "vort" and refuse to acknowledge the lesson it implies.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
1. Why did the angels eat when they visited Avraham?
1. One should not deviate from the accepted custom of the place he is visiting. They, therefore, made it appear as if they were eating the food that Avraham served them.
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