Wednesday, November 23, 2005


The parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis are replete with inspirational accounts of the Avos and Imahos that impart lessons we are to apply to our daily lives. Far from mere tales, the stories of the Chumash overflow with teachings that have shaped our people for millennia.

In Parshas Vayeirah we are introduced to the lofty form of chesed that characterized Avrohom Avinu. The Torah tells us that Avrohom interrupted a conversation with Hakadosh Boruch Hu to care for three wayfarers who appeared at his tent.

How strange. Although the Torah does not disclose the subject of Avrohom’s conversation with the Creator, it does give a lengthy description of how he cared for his guests. The Torah recounts Avrohom’s conversations with them and goes into detail portraying how he rushed about to prepare food for them and take care of their needs.

Everything in the Torah is intended to elevate us and to teach us how we are to conduct ourselves. Obviously, what Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Avrohom at that encounter must pale in comparison with the message of the importance of hospitality that we glean from Avrohom’s interactions with his guests.

Avrohom Avinu thought that the three men whom he saw were desert nomads; he did not know they were malachim. How would we have reacted in that situation? How do we act when we are doing something and a beggar comes to the door? It is one thing to be nice to a person we know, it is another to be thoughtful when dealing with someone who is not a well-dressed and respectable-looking person.

Anyone can be nice to a likeable person; the test of greatness is how we treat ordinary folk who may be different from us and for whom we have no special affinity. How we talk to the nudnik after we have had a hard day ourselves shows what kind of person we are.

There is another point. Avrohom treated each person as if he were important. Actually, to him, every person truly was important. It is one thing to pontificate about the importance of every individual and it is a totally different thing to actually act upon that belief.

Everyone is familiar with the teachings of Chazal regarding the supreme value of every life. We all know the Mishna in Maseches Sanhedrin, 4:3, which states, “Kol hamekayeim nefesh achas m’Yisroel k’eilu kiyeim olam malei,” but do we always conduct ourselves that way?

Many times we hurt people by acting without considering their feelings. Other times we know how the other person will feel but we think that our end goal takes precedence over the way just one or two people will feel.

At times we take the liberty of rebuking people publicly for behavior we could have chided them privately about and achieved the same result. We feel the matter is so urgent that we are entitled to overlook the posuk of “Hocheiach tochiach es amisecha velo sisa olov cheit, give mussar in a way in which you yourself don’t end up sinning.”

Our people have had such a miraculous resurgence since the Holocaust and boruch Hashem there are so many of us that we don’t consider each person as an olam malei anymore. In small towns and communities each soul is precious; the value of each person to the minyan is so obvious that people think twice before hurting each other. People aren’t so quick to insult and berate the other when there are not that many Jews on the block. But when our numbers rise, many of us begin to take our fellow Jews for granted.

The obvious question is: from where did Avrohom Avinu learn that the proper reaction was to ask Hakadosh Boruch Hu to wait for him while he cared for the orchim?

The Gemorah in Maseches Shabbos, 127a, quotes Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav who derives from Avrohom’s conduct that “Gadol hachnosas orchim m’kabolas pnei haShechinah - hachnosas orchim is greater than speaking with G-d.” The Gemorah does not explain how Avrohom derived this understanding.

It seems to defy comprehension. If we were ever zoche to be mekabeil pnei haShechina, would we dare turn aside to go minister to some nomad who is at the door? If someone great were visiting us, would we leave their company to help someone we didn’t know?

Often, when encountering difficulty understanding p’shat in a Gemorah, it helps to examine how the Rambam quotes the passage. The Rambam brings this memrah of Rav Yehuda Omar Rav in Hilchos Aveil, 14:1-2, and a reading of his words there sheds light upon our question.

The Rambam opens chapter 14 of Hilchos Aveil by stating: “It is a mitzvah m’drabonon to visit the sick, comfort the mourner, hotzoas hameis, hachnosas kallah, lelavos orchim, to be mesameach a chosson and kallah, etc. These are all included in gemillas chasodim sheb’gufo for which there is no limit to what we are to do.”

He then states that “even though all of these various mitzvos are m’drabonon, they are included in ‘Veohavta l’reiachah kamochah.’ Anything that you would want others to do for you, you should do for other people…”

In halacha 2 he goes on to detail more of the halachos of hachnosas orchim which are derived from the way Avrohom Avinu dealt with his guests as recounted in Parshas Vayeirah.

It may be that since the source of the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim is from the posuk of Veohavta l’reiachah kamochah, which the Rambam explains to mean that you should treat others the way you want others to treat you, Avrohom felt obligated to interrupt what he was doing to help the three people at his door.

Every person, when sick and in pain, hopes people will stop what they are doing and care for him. Every person who is lost in the desert, hot and thirsty, wishes that the people in the house they see up ahead would open the door and let them in. Every person in pain wants anyone who can relieve their hurt to drop what they are doing and rush to his rescue.

Even when one understands that the person with the painkillers may be busy doing something else and not available at the moment to help everyone, one tends to think that he and his needs are exceptional. One looks at the person capable of helping and thinks, “You may not be able to help everyone who needs help, but you can help me.”

When you are hungry and lost and need a cool drink and directions, and the person who can help you is busy at the moment, you may understand that he doesn’t want to be interrupted. Nevertheless, you think that in your particular case the person should make an exception, stop what he is doing and take care of you.

That means that the mitzvah of Veohavta l’reiachah kamochah demands that you have to treat other people in precisely that way. From this perspective, Avrohom derived that he was obligated to interrupt his conversation with the Shechinah to care for the orchim. He felt obligated to subject his own desire for attaining greater spiritual heights to the mitzvah of caring for the needs of others.

In so doing, he forged a legacy that would follow the Jewish people down the generations.

We have to absorb that lesson and recognize the importance of every single person and his or her needs. We need to put ourselves in their place and feel their pain and do whatever we can to help alleviate their suffering.

All through life, people experience ups and downs. It is not always possible for us to solve the problems of our friends and family as they go through hard times, as we are not always equipped with the resources to rectify the situation. We can however, always offer messages of support.

When people go through hard times, it gives them consolation to know that other people care about them. Even if we aren’t all blessed with the gift of always being able to find the right words, we ought to be able to find ways of expressing our solidarity and friendship.

People who seek shidduchim and others who are in need of assistance need us to pay attention to them in an un-patronizing way. They need and deserve from us more than lip service. The mitzvah of Veohavta l’reiachah kamochah obligates us to put ourselves in their place and do whatever we can to help them.

Avrohom Avinu showed us the way. Just as nothing was beyond his dignity, nothing should be beyond ours. Just as he stopped what he was doing to help his fellow human being, so, too, we must find time and the ability to help people desperate for someone to come to their aid.

In parshas Chayei Sarah, we see the difficulty Avrohom Avinu had in finding a suitable shidduch for his son Yitzchok. Avrohom sent his servant Eliezer on a mission to find a suitable mate for Yitzchok. He makes him swear that he will follow his directives about where to look for the right girl.

The Torah spends so much time recounting how Eliezer went about his task, that the Medrash, in Bereishis Rabba 60:8, states, “Yofeh sichasan shel avdei botei avos m’torasan shel bonim.” The parsha of Eliezer offers so many lessons regarding how we are to lead our lives that the Torah elaborates on everything that Eliezer thought, did and said.

The purpose of the Torah relating the entire episode of Eliezer is to instruct us in middos. The reason these stories are retold is not to make for interesting, charming tales for youngsters in the primary grades. They are meant to be studied on a deep level and used as a practical guide in our own lives.

Eliezer was determined to find a girl blessed with middos tovos for his master’s son. He used his situation to test her and ensure that the girl who would marry Yitzchok possessed a refined character and excelled above all in her dealings with others.

He displayed an unflinching dedication to his master coupled with an unfailing faith in Hashem despite all of the difficulties inherent in the situation. In fact, in referring to Eliezer, the Medrash, 60:1, states that the posuk in Yeshaya, 50:10, “Asher holach chasheichim v’ein nogah lo,” refers to Eliezer when he went to find a shidduch for Yitzchok.

Even when it seemed entirely dark and there was little hope he would be able to fulfill his master’s request, Hashem lit the way for him. The Medrash states, “Hakadosh Boruch Hu haya meir lo bezikim u’bevrakim.” When the baal bitachon appears to be lost in the dark, the light of Hashem will burst forth as lightening through the darkness and dread.

Sometimes people involved in shidduchim grow so despondent that they give up all hope. A good study of this week’s parsha and its midrashim can help instill in us the faith necessary to endure the shidduchim period and other trying times. In every other difficult situation we find ourselves in, we must always remain optimistic and maintain hope. The dark clouds will eventually part for men and women of faith and their world will be brightly lit.

We must never let anyone rob us of hope. We are entitled to dream of brighter and happier days. As long as we can keep hope alive, we will not lose sight of our goal and will remain loyal to our ambition. For when we lose hope we have lost everything. Even if people are thoughtless and say things to hurt us as we seek to find what we are looking for, or if we are, chas veshalom, ill or have fallen on hard times, we must not lose our faith and optimism.

Whether we are looking for a shidduch, or doing a shlichus for someone, or dealing with shysters like Lavan and Besu’el, Parshas Chayei Sorah shows us how to proceed.

If we don’t do more than scratch the surface of these parshiyos, we will be overlooking the Torah’s teachings intended to help refine our characters and infuse our lives with holiness. That timeless wisdom will draw us closer to G-d as well as to our fellow man.

Let us all endeavor to expend the effort to increase our study of Torah quantitatively and qualitatively. We will thus be better able to help ourselves, as well as to be more sensitive and attuned to those around us and better equipped to ease their pain and hardship.


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