Torah thought forFriday 17 Cheshvan 5783 November 11 2022

Parashat Vayeira - Don’t be Kind on Someone Else’s Account

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

This Shabbat, we shall read in the weekly Parashah about Avraham Avinu who was sitting at the entrance of his tent “during the hottest part of the day” (Bereishit 18:10). Three days after his brit milah, he sat and looked for guests.

Hashem saw this and due to his love for Avraham he brought the sun out its sheath [meaning that Hashem made it shine intensely, see Rashi ad loc.]. There was tremendous heat so that Avraham could rest. But Avraham continued in his way, he made his face as hard as flint [see Isaiah 50:7]. He was sitting at the entrance of his tent “during the hottest part of the day”, waiting for guests.

Behold, “[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, ‘My lords, if you would, do not go on without stopping by me. Let some water be brought, and wash your feet. Rest under the tree. I will get bread for you to refresh yourselves. Then you may continue on your way’” (Bereishit 18:2-4).

Immediately afterwards, “Avraham rushed to Sarah’s tent and said, ‘Hurry! Three measures of the finest flour! Knead it and make rolls’. Avraham ran to the cattle, and chose a tender, choice calf. He gave it to a young man who rushed to prepare it. [Avraham] fetched some cottage cheese and milk, and the calf that he had prepared, and he placed it before [his guests]. He stood over them as they ate under the tree” (ibid. 18:6-8).

The Holy Torah explains in great length, describing Avraham Avinu’s approach to hospitality.

However, it begs the following question. Avraham Avinu behaved so generously to the guests. He gave them meat “a tender, choice calf”, “cottage cheese and milk” in abundance. So why when it came to the water, which is the simplest of ingredients in Avraham’s perfect hospitality, it specifically states, “let some water be brought”. Why “some”, why now not a lot and with a generous hand?

We may answer this question by analysing the pessukim. With all the items that Avraham prepared for his guests it categorically states that he prepared them himself, “I will get bread for you”, “[Avraham] fetched some cottage cheese and milk”, and likewise with Sarah his wife who was selfless like him, she did everything going to a lot of trouble. However, concerning the water it states, “let some water be brought”, which implies that the water was brought by someone else, via a servant and not through Avraham himself.

Through this Avraham Avinu taught us a great principle. A person may do great acts of kindness, being good and doing good, helping everyone in need and all in the absolute spirit of kindness. However, all of this is only when the person acts themselves. However, when someone else does this, you may not trouble others to fulfil the mitzvah of kindness! You may not trouble others due to your desire to honour the guests! Therefore regarding the water, that was brought by someone else, Avraham didn’t increase it, rather he said, “let some water be brought”.

It is related about the Gaon Rebbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev z”l (1740–1809), (also known as the Holy Berditchever) once stayed in a city for Shabbat at the head of the community. That communal head was extremely wealthy.

After Kabbalat Shabbat and Arvit, which had a large attendance, the Rav turned together with all the heads of the community and the accompanying congregation to enter a marquee, which had been erected in honour of the Rav’s visit, where they would have the seudat Shabbat with a large attendance.

After kiddush, a large bowl was brought before the Rav for netilat yadayim (washing the hands before bread). The Hassidim gather around to learn from the Rav’s conduct, how will he wash his hands. To their surprise, they observed that the Rav didn’t use a lot of water, rather, he only used enough water according to the main halachic requirement.

The Rav saw the surprised faces of the hassidim and said, “In my home, I trouble myself to bring the water and therefore I use a large amount, but here, I am just a guest and moreover, there is a maidservant, and she is responsible for drawing the water and bringing it to me. Therefore, I am not allowed to fulfil the mitzvah in a more choicest way on the maidservant’s effort and account!

The hassidim heard this and learnt an excellent lesson in the laws of netilat yadayim. But more than that, how to behave when it comes to respecting others and being truly kind. There is a similar story related about the Chafetz Chaim z”l (1838-1933). This is the very matter that we saw by Avraham Avinu, who didn’t want to be strict and beautify the mitzvah on other account and people’s efforts.

Shabbat Shalom!