(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l)
(written by his grandson HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
We shall read in this week’s Parashah, “Hashem appeared to [Avraham] in the Plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent during the hottest part of the day. [Avraham] lifted his eyes and saw three strangers standing a short distance from him. When he saw [them] from the entrance of his tent, he ran to greet them, bowing down to the ground. He said, ‘Sir, if you would, do not go on without stopping by me’” (Bereishit 18:1-3).
That day was the third day since Avraham Avinu had performed brit milah on himself. On the third day the pain is [accumulatively] the worst. In those days they didn’t have the hygienic conditions like we have today and as such brit milah for an elderly person caused tremendous pain. Likewise we find with Shechem, “On the third day”, this was the third day since their circumcision, “when [the people] were in agony, two of Yaakov’s sons Shimon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took up their swords. They came to the city without arousing suspicion and killed every male” (Bereisihit 34:25).
Hashem knew how great Avraham’s self-sacrifice was to fulfil the mitzvah of kindness to others, “Give truth to Yaakov, kindness to Avraham” (Michah 7:20), therefore Hashem had pity on him so that guests wouldn’t come to his home whilst he was suffering. So what did He do? He brought out the sun from its sheath and that day it was a blazing heat, 50 Degrees Celsius. In a heat such as this no one will leave their home! There is no one coming or going!
But Avraham Avinu just couldn’t rest, he was sitting at the entrance of the tent, sitting and anticipating, perhaps one person will pass by that Avraham will be able to offer homage. To give him some refreshment, to fulfil the mitzvah of hospitality. HaKadosh Baruch Hu saw Avraham’s discomfort [at not being able to fulfil the mitzvah of hospitality], so he summoned three angels, the most important ones, Michael, Gavriel and Refael and He said to them, go to Avraham! So that he not be distressed!
It states “[Avraham] lifted his eyes and saw three strangers standing a short distance from him. When he saw [them] from the entrance of his tent, he ran to greet them,” we must understand the exact language of the passuk “When he saw [them] from the entrance of his tent, he ran to greet them,” since it already states that Avraham was sitting at the entrance of the tent, if so why the repetition that Avraham ran from the entrance of the tent?
The answer is that our chachahmim say that a person should always run [enthusiastically] to perform a mitzvah, he shouldn’t go dandily but rather that he should run, to show that he has an affection for the Torah and mitzvot! The posekim dispute when a person leaves his home to go to the Bet Kennesset if he should immediately run when he leaves his home or perhaps there is only reason to run when actually near the Bet Kennesset since then it is noticeable that he is indeed running to perform a mitzvah?
The Perisha [Rav Yehoshua Falk z”l 1555-1614] (one of the great posekim) is of the opinion that when a person leaves his home he should walk in his normal fashion since it isn’t yet noticeable that he is going to the Bet Kennesset, only when he gets near to the Bet Kennesset, then he should run. However, the Kennesset HaGedolah [Rav Chaim Benveniste z”l 1603–1673] argues with the Persishah and writes that immediately when he leaves his home it is proper to run to perform the mitzvah even though it isn’t noticeable [to others] that he is running to perform a mitzvah.
The halachah is indeed as the Kennesset HaGedolah’s opinion, that as soon as he leaves his home, he should run to perform the mitzvah! Our passuk may provide a proof for the Kennesset HaGedolah, “…from the entrance of his tent, he ran to greet them,” immediately when he left the entrance Avraham began to ran, and not just when he was close to the angels!
Afterwards it states, “[Avraham] lifted his eyes and saw three strangers standing a short distance from him.” They were in fact angels but to Avraham Avinu they appear as men. Our chachamim say they actually appeared to him as Arabs, like Gentiles, and nevertheless Avraham Avinu accorded them great honour. He prepared a calf which was tender and good, such fantastic treatment, why so? This is [true] kindness! And after they finished eating he would ask them to give thanks to Hashem who has given us everything, [this is the meaning of the passuk] “[Avraham] planted a tamarisk tree in Be’er-Sheva, and there he called in the Name of Hashem, G-d of the Universe” (Bereishit 21:33), everyone would offer a berachah to Hashem!
Afterwards the angels came to Sedom, to Lot. There it states, “The two angels came to Sedom in the evening, while Lot was sitting at the city gate. Lot saw them and got up to greet them (Bereishit 19:1). It doesn’t state “men” as it did by Avraham, but rather “angels”, because if they had appeared as Arabs Lot wouldn’t have accorded them any honour. Only when he saw their faces shining and they appeared important and honourable, he realised that they were indeed angels, therefore he accorded them honour. Where did he learn to give honour? From Avraham Avinu, because Lot had been close to him and observed his behaviour.
They relate about the Gaon Rebbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev z”l (1740-1809), who was the Av Bet Din in Berditchev, who was a big Gaon, not just in Torah but also his refined character, [to the extent that] his whole life he was an advocate for Am Yisrael.
On one occasion he had to visit the city of Minsk and there he was unknown. At evening, he arrived at an inn and approached the innkeeper requesting a place to sleep. The innkeeper responded, “I have no room”. Rebbi Levi Yitzchak said, “I will not take up much space, just give me a corner, even just here and it will suffice”. The innkeeper responded harshly, “Sir, I have no space, don’t waste my time, go from here, there is a cheder teacher in such as place and he accepts guests, go to him!”
Rebbi Levi Yitzchak heard this and went to the cheder teacher’s home. There he was offered a place to sleep. A person was there who had once been in Berditchev and he identified the Rav. Immediately it became known that Rebbi Levi Yitzchak was in the cheder teacher’s home and indeed the cheder teacher himself according the Rav also great honour.
The innkeeper heard that Rebbi Levi Yitzchak was in the city and went to see him. Suddenly he saw that that this very same person is the one he had dismissed the day before, the Rav of Berditchev! He approached the Rav and said to him, “With respect to the Rav, forgive me, I didn’t know that his honour is the Rav from Berditchev, if I had known I would have certainly done everything to enable him to stay with me. And now, please sir, return to my inn and enjoy hospitality under my roof!”
Rebbi Levi Yitzchak replied to him, “Lot honoured the angels, because he saw them as angels, whilst Avraham honoured the guest because he thought that they were Arabs! At this moment the cheder teacher received me even though he thought I was just a regular guy and therefore there is no reason for me to leave his home!”
We learn that it is a mitzvah to receive a person with a warm welcome! As the Tanna [Shammai] teaches in Avot (1:15), “Accept kol ha’adam - all the people with a good countenance”. Why does the Mishnah states kol ha’adam - all the people why not just say kol adam - all people? The answer is that our chachamim explain in Yevamot (61a) that a Jew that dies makes everything in the house impure, but a Gentile that dies doesn’t make the house impure. From where did they learn this? From the passuk that states “adam - a person who dies in a tent” (Bamidbar 19:14), and our chachamim explained that Yisrael are called “adam” but the nations of the world aren’t called “adam”. Therefore the laws of impurity of a cadaver in a tent is specifically in reference to Am Yisrael and not Gentiles.
However the Ba’alei Hatosafot bring a question from Rabbeinu Tam (1100-1171), how can it be that the Talmud states that Gentiles aren’t also referred to as “adam”? For our chachachim state categorically that if a Gentile studies Torah, the relevant passages to Gentiles, to the Bnei Noach, and he also fulfils the Seven Laws of Noach, he indeed merits to a great reward like a Cohen Gadol! Our chachamim deduced this from the passuk “Keep My decrees and laws, since it is only by keeping them that ha’adam - a person can [truly] live” (Vayikra 18:5), the intention is even Gentiles! If so how can the Talmud state that Gentiles aren’t called “adam”?
Rabbeinu Tam answers that there is a distinction. When it states [just] “adam” [with no definitive article], the intention is specifically Am Yisrael, but where it states “ha’adam” [with the definitive article] it refers to all people even Gentiles.
Therefore the Tanna [Shammai] said, receive “kol ha’adam” all people with a pleasant countenance, not just to behave towards Jews in a polite manner, with a friendly demeanour, but to Gentiles too, for they too are created in the Image of Hashem [see Bereishit 1:27]. It goes without saying that we aren’t referring to evil oppressors of Am Yisrael, but regular people, whether Jew or Gentile, with whom one should interact with a pleasant demeanour.