Thursday, December 26, 2013

398 - Vayeira

The beginning of the parsha describes Avraham's encounter with the three angels disguised as Arabs. "And he raised his eyes and he saw, behold there were three men standing before him, and he saw and he ran towards them from the doorway of the tent and he bowed to the ground" (Bereishis 18, 2). Rashi bothered by the repetition in the pasuk, explains that the first "and he saw" is meant literally, while the second "and he saw" means that Avraham understood. He saw the angels standing still and he understood from their behavior that they did not want to trouble him. Despite the fact that the angels knew that Avraham would come to greet them, they did not walk in his direction, to honor him by demonstrating that they did not want to trouble him. 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that middas ha'chesed would dictate that they should not trouble an elderly man to walk out of his tent into the sweltering heat to greet them outside. Yet, they opted to honor Avraham instead of performing a kindness for him. The angels taught us an important lesson in interpersonal relations. When one has the choice of either honoring another person or performing a kindness for him, giving honor takes precedence over performing kindness. 

Nonetheless, a few pesukim later in the parsha we find that when the choice is between performing a kindness for others and one's own honor, priority must be given to kindness for others. The Ramban (ibid. 18, 7) explains why the Torah describes Avraham's preparations of the meal he served his guests: "To inform us of his great desire to do kindness for others. This great man who had three hundred and eighteen able warriors in his house, and who was extremely old and weak from his bris milah, went himself to Sarah's tent to urge her to quickly prepare the bread, and then afterward ran to the barn to select a good tender animal to prepare for his guests, and he did not perform any of this through his servants." 

With regard to returning a lost object Chazal tell us that if the finder is elderly and/or it is beneath his dignity to deal with such an object, he is exempt from the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. It is clear from this Ramban, says Rav Wolbe, that the above exemption does not applyto other types of chesed. Moreover, we often find that the greater the person, the greater the amount of effort he expends on performing kindness for others! We have so many opportunities on a daily basis to not only perform kindness for others, but more importantly, to honor them. Telling a colleague what an asset he is to the company or complimenting a spouse on a job well done, can do wonders for that person. The good feeling will last much longer than a cup of coffee that we might prepare for them!

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