Vayera 5779 – A Threefold Perspective on Chesed

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At the beginning of Parshas Vayera, we open on Avraham Avinu recuperating from his Bris Milah. Avraham is perched in his tent looking for any and all visitors that he can graciously welcome into his abode. In an act of care for his precious, devoted servant, Avraham, Hashem made this day incredibly hot. Rashi notes that the sun had been “unsheathed” and unleashed a brutal heat that would deter any traveler from journeying too far. Yet, what made Avraham uncomfortable was not the temperature nor was it the pain from his circumcision; he was downtrodden because there were no guests to usher into his home. God’s very act of kindness toward Avraham was in fact causing him more pain than the other factors. It was then that Hashem sent three angels Avraham’s way.

There are many lessons that can be gleaned from this episode, yet I would like to focus on three in particular.

First, Rabbi Avraham Schorr writes in HaLekach Vehalibuv (Breishis page צא) that Avraham’s actions were poignant because it was he who would be the role model for the generations to come in regard to this commandment. It’s not enough to do the mitzvah, explains Rav Schorr, but one must work at getting those around them involved and inspired to as well. Avraham informed Sarah to make the bread and the “youth” around him (Rashi explains that this was Yishmael) to involve them in this mitzvah. This can be done both directly and indirectly. This entire event occurred at the time when Sdom and Amorah were burgeoning cities, filled to the brim with sinners who deplored hachnasas orchim. Look later on in the Parsha when the angels visit the home of Lot in Sdom, and he doesn’t let them wash their feet for fear that the townspeople will learn of his guests. (Nevertheless, the townspeople showed up in force immediately anyway). Avraham teaches us that even if there is no one else around you to help in your mission, one must still strive for this goal.

Second, Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky, the Slonimer Rebbe and more widely known as the author of the Nesivos Shalom, notes with distinction at Avraham’s behavior upon seeing the wandering guests (angels) in the distance. The text doesn’t merely state that Avraham went to the men and convinced them to come to his tent. The psukim state on three different occasions that Avraham acted with great haste in order to greet the angels, to tell Sarah to prepare bread, and to go and choose the finest of the calves to prepare for them. (וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּה֙ שְׁלשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יו וַיַּ֗רְא וַיָּ֤רָץ לִקְרָאתָם֙, וַיְמַהֵ֧ר אַבְרָהָ֛ם הָאֹ֖הֱלָה אֶל־שָׂרָ֑ה, and וְאֶל־הַבָּקָ֖ר רָ֣ץ אַבְרָהָ֑ם). Such zrizus (alacrity) to prepare for his guests, all without any pain medication or sedatives from his holy medical procedure.

Finally, Rav Schorr continues with an idea from Skulener Rebbe. The first Pasuk of the Parsha states that “Vehu yoshev pesach haohel kechom hayom” that Avraham was sitting in his tent in the heat of the day. We already are aware of the unseasonably warm weather, but the Skulener Rebbe goes in a different direction with this information. He explains that the heat mentioned here refers not to the temperature on the plains of Mamre where Avraham was situated, but the fire that burned inside him to perform the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim as he sat at his tent gazing out into the distance for any passersby. He was entirely consumed with seeing who he could help on their journey.
As my mother’s fifth yahrtzeit falls this Motzei Shabbos, these three messages from our Parsha resonate with me tremendously. Each one of them reminds me of her. For my sister and I, my parents were (and still are) tremendous role models in chesed for us and those who know them. She didn’t only take these tasks on herself, but actively sought to get others engaged. When I was in elementary school, one of her crowning achievements was her role in creating “Schechter Shabbat,” where families would be hosted by other families. Their children were often times in classes or rode the bus together, yet their families may not have always known one another. This Shabbat dinner sticks in my mind, in addition to countless others magnificently hosted by my parents. What also is stuck in my mind is the manner in which these actions were done in our home. My mother and father did these things without great fanfare, sometimes at the very last minute. And even more so, the desire that my mother had to do and to act even when she physically wasn’t able to do so. She would instruct my sister and I or other to do her bidding for her. No one would’ve faulted her for taking a few moments to herself while convalescing from one of her many trips to the Cleveland Clinic. But that was never the case with her.
The tent of Sheila was molded after the tent of Avraham Avinu. Avraham leaves giant shoes for Klal Yisrael to fill when it comes to chesed: the action itself, the manner in which it’s done, and the desire for opportunities to implement it. The Balk home was graced with a tremendous role model of championing chesed. We miss her every day.
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