Olam Chesed Yibane
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Vayera elav Hashem be-elonei Mamre "Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamre" (Bereishit 18:1). Why did Hashem appear to Avraham Avinu? Rashi explains that it was the third day following his brit milah and Hashem came to do bikkur cholim. The following pasuk reads "He lifted his eyes and saw; And behold! Three men were standing over him. He perceived so he ran towards them from the entrance of the tent, and bowed toward the ground" (ibid. 2). Why did Avraham Avinu run towards them if Hashem had come to visit him? From the fact that Avraham Avinu left Hashem to tend to his guests, Chazal teach us: "gedola hachnassat orchim mekabalat pnei haShechina" "Receiving guests is greater than greeting the Divine Presence, for it is written: 'and he said, My L-rd if I have now found favor in Your eyes, please do not pass away from Your servant' (Bereishit 18:3)" (Shabbat 127a).
If Avraham Avinu left the Shchina to tend to his guests, should we derive from there that if a guest arrives when one is in the middle of Shmone Esrei then we should leave in the middle of Shmone Esrei to tend to the guests, after all "receiving guests is greater than greeting the Divine Presence." The answer of course is no - we may not run in the middle of Shmone Esrei to receive a guest. How can you even think of leaving the King while talking to Him? The difference between what Avraham Avinu did and one being in the middle of Shmone Esrei is that when we daven we are involved in avodat Hashem - we may not interrupt our serving of Hashem in order to serve a human being. Avraham Avinu, on the other hand, was not serving Hashem. On the contrary - he was being honored by Hashem coming to him. It may have been considred me-ein olam haba but it is not called to serve Hashem. Hashem visiting Avraham Avinu was an honor and a reward for Avraham, he therefore was able to leave the Shchina and tend to his guests.
Many have asked how Avraham Avinu knew that "receiving guests is greater than greeting the Divine Presence"? We learn it from Avraham Avinu but how did Avraham Avinu know? I believe the obvious answer is that Avraham Avinu knew the entire Torah, so he knew this as well.
I would like to add another possible explanation: the Mishna teaches us "a moment of repentance and good deeds in this world, is worth more than all the life in the Next World" (Avot 4:14). Hashem's visit to Avraham Avinu was me-ein olam haba but the mitzvah of hachnassat orchim is greater. I can prove that Avraham Avinu felt a sense of olam haba at that point. When he went to pray on behalf of Sodom he pleaded with Hashem: "It would be sacrilege to You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the righteous along with the wicked; so the righteous will be like the wicked. It would be sacrilege to You." (Bereishit 18:25). Why does he repeat "it would be sacrilege to You"? Avraham meant that the chillul Hashem would be so great not only in this world which is temporary and passing but even in the eternality of the Next World? How does Avraham Avinu know what is happening in Olam Haba? Clearly he is already there to some extent.
The Torah describes Avraham's hachnassat orchim: "Avraham hastened to the tent to Sarah and said: hurry! Three se'ahs of meal, fine flour! Knead and make cakes." (Bereishit 18:6). We find in the Gemara that many generations later Avraham Avinu was rewarded for everything he did on this particular day when Hashem gave something corresponding to the Jewish nation in the desert many years later. The Gemara however finds something lacking in one of Avraham's good deeds: "whatever Avraham did for the ministering angels (i.e. his three guests) himself, Hashem likewise did for Avraham's children Himself, but whatever Avraham did only through an agent Hashem likewise did for his children only through an angel ... 'Avraham took cream and milk' (Bereishit 18:8) - 'Behold I shall rain down food from Heaven' (Shmot 16:4)" (Baba Metzia 86a). The Gemara then goes on to mention what Avraham did only through a messenger: 'let some water be brought (through someone else)' (Bereishit 18:4) ... 'and you (Moshe) shall strike the rock and and water will come forth from it and the people will drink'" (Shmot 17:6).
Because Avraham did not bring the water himself, Hashem sent Moshe Rabenu to bring the water. One can ask, does it make that much of a difference whether Hashem Himself provides the water or Moshe Rabenu, was Moshe Rabenu not a good messenger? There was however a major difference, for Moshe's bringing the water resulted in his infraction of hitting the rock rather than speaking to the rock and therefore being barred entry into Eretz Yisrael. The Kabbalists state that had Moshe Rabenu entered Eretz Yisrael the Beit HaMikdash would never have been destroyed and there would have been no exile. This means that from a certain perspective the exile we have been suffering for the past 2,000 years is due to Avraham Avinu not providing water himself to his guests but rather through a messenger. What a difference there is between doing a mitzvah yourself and through a messenger? We may wonder, surely Avraham Avinu fulfilled hachnassat orchim many times throughout his life and most likely gave water himself to the guests, must this one act be viewed in a negative light? The Gemara explains that the payment here was for what he did on this particular day. What was special about this day? This day marked the ultimate in hachnassat orchim - he was an old man, recovering from his brit milah and he ran towards his guests in very intense heat.
Every act, mitzvah or otherwise, which may seem insignificant to us may have incredible ramifications. One example we read in Parshat Noach. The Torah describes Shem and Yefet's covering their naked father: "and Shem and Yefet took a garment" (Bereishit 9:23) - "it is not written 'and they took' (vayikchu) rather 'and he took' (vayikach), this teaches us about Shem that he exerted effort in the fulfillment of the commandment more than Yefet" (Rashi there). That extra effort that Shem placed in carrying out this Mitzvah, on the surface, does not seem to be of any significance, yet it is immediately clear from the Torah's description and Noach's reaction that there is a major difference between them. Noach's blessing of Shem was: "Blessed is Hashem, the G-d of Shem" (Bereishit 9:26), while Yefet was blessed with "May G-d extend Yefet, but he will dwell in the tents of Shem" (ibid. 27). Yefet was given everything the physical world had to offer - Europe, America, Australia along with all their Dollars and Pounds Sterling. Regarding physical rewards it is written that their "end will be eternal destruction" (Bamidbar 24:20), Shem's reward, on the other hand, was spiritual and therefore of far greater and long lasting value. The Divine Presence was destined to "dwell in the tents of Shem" (Noach is alluding to the Shchina's dwelling in Yerushalayim - city of Malki Tzedek who was Shem himself - see Rashi Bereishit 14:18). In addition, we see that Hashem set aside His Name specifically for Shem "Blessed is Hashem, the G-d of Shem". We do not find, by the same token, the expression "G-d of Yefet". In later years there will be "G-d of Avraham, G-d of Yitzchak, and the G-d of Yaakov" (Shmot 3:6), but Shem was the first human being on whom Hashem conferred His Name.
Should Yefet not have been equally rewarded, did he and his brother Shem not carry out the Mitzvah together? The difference is that Yefet did not put the same effort into performance of the Mitzvah. We can explain that Shem acted "lishma" whereas Yefet acted "shelo lishma". Yefet was rewarded, but only in this world - with multitudes of dollars and sterling. The spiritual reward, have the Shchina dwell within him, was only given to Shem. A further advantage to having a spiritual reward is that we know it is everlasting, while the pound or the sterling can lose value. We know that Yefet did have a share in the construction of the second Beit Hamikdash, for the Persians who built it were his descendants from him, yet Chazal tell us: "'May G-d grant beauty to Yefet and may He dwell in the tents of Shem' (Bereishit 9:27) - although G-d granted beauty to Yefet, the Divine Presence dwells only in the tents of Shem" (Yoma 9b-10a), the Shchina only dwelled in the first Beit Hamikdash that was built by Shlomo Hamelech - a descendant of Shem. Speedily in our day, the third Beit Hamikdash will be built by the Moshiach and will also be a housing for the Divine Presence. The Shchina, however, did not dwell in the second Beit Hamikdash which was constructed by descendants of Yefet. (Perhaps we can suggest an allusion to this from the pasuk "dwell in the tents of Shem".
The name Shem is comprised of the two letters "shin" and "mem". The "shin" stands for Shlomo Hamelech, while the "mem" for Moshiach - thus the Shchina can only dwell in the Beit Hamikdash of Shlomo and the Moshiach - not the second Beit Hamikdash built by the Persian king Coresh). It would be improper to suggest that there was no Divine Presence at all in the second Beit Hamikdash, after all the miracle of Chanukah occurred during that time, the Beit Hamikdash contained the Menorah which was "a testimony for all mankind that the Divine Presence dwells with Israel" (Shabbat 22b), and many other miracles occurred, yet we cannot compare the level of the presence of the Shchina with that of the first Beit Hamikdash.
Chazal point out another distinction between the rewards granted Shem and Yefet - "Shem's children were privileged to be given the commandment of the tallit of tzitzit and Yefet earned burial for his children, as it says: 'I will give to Gog a place there for a tomb ... and there they will bury Gog and all his multitude' (Yechezkel 39:11)" (Rashi Bereishit 9:23). Both of the brothers were given a form of covering in reward for their having covered their father, yet what a difference there is between these two coverings! One of them was given a Tallit of Tzitzit - a Mitzvah equivalent to all Mitzvot, regarding which it is written: "whoever is scrupulous in the observance of this Mitzvah is worthy to receive the Divine Presence" (Menachot 43b). Just prior to his passing, the Gr"a held on to his tzitzit crying: "how difficult it is to leave this world, for a mere few kopecks I can perform a Mitzvah that can elevate me so high that I can receive the Shchina. In the Next World, I can give everything I have and still not be able to perform such a Mitzvah! (see Aliyot Eliyahu - 117). Yefet also was given a covering, not tzitzit, but rather burial rights - to bury Gog and Magog may they be buried speedily in our day. One receives a Mitzvah and the other internment - what a vast difference there is between one who places that extra effort and joy into performing a Mitzvah and one who does not.
Hashem instructed Avraham: "'Gaze now toward the Heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them', and He said to him: 'so shall your offspring be!'" (Bereishis 15:5). The astronomers tell us that the number of stars is great. I believe, however, this refers to the greatness of the Jewish people not only in quantity but in quality. From our vantage point such a great distance away, a star appears very small. In reality each star is immense - some of them being several times larger than the sun. The sun itself, as we know, is several times the size of the earth. Each and every Jew is like a star - he appears small and insignificant because we do not possess the tools with which to measure his true greatness. A crack in a Jew is like a crack in the sun - the implications are immeasurable.
Every mitzvah each of us does has immense ramifications. We do not understand the greatness of every Jew - greater than the sun and the moon. Hashem created the world with a force of gravity with the perfect balance between the sun, moon, stars, earth, and everything else. If there was even the slightest change we would either come too close to the sun and burn to death or become frozen. Thank G-d things are just as they should be - Hashem created the world where the stars are not too close and not too far. Just as each star is in its right place and has meaning, so too each Jew is meaningful - "Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh" "All Jewish people are responsible for one another" (Shvuot 39a) - every Jew is responsible for all of Klal Yisrael. When a Jew moves in the wrong direction it could be a catastrophe for the entire nation.
We cannot even grasp what we accomplish when we learn Torah. Chazal teach us that we are creating worlds, as the pasuk states: "I have placed My words in your mouth and with the shade of My hand have I covered you - to implant the heanves and to set a foundation for the earth and to say unto Zion, You are My people" (Yeshayahu 51:16). When we place the words of Hashem in our mouth we are creating heaven and earth - we have no comprehension of the greatness of what we are doing, the significance is infinite.
Hashem does not judge us by the number of hours we learn or by the number of pages of Gemara, but rather on how much heart we placed into it. Avraham Avinu teaches the world about loving Hashem - he sees a world in which the Creator showers all His creatures with endless love to Jews and everyone else. "You open Your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing" (Tehillim 145:16) - Hashem gives to every being. Avraham learns from here to give others the best he can in terms of this world and the Next World. He provides them not only with food but also teaches them about Hashem thereby providing them not only with the few years of this world but with eternal life in the Next World. We must strive to emulate Hashem's ways of chesed.
The Torah describes in the beginning of Parshat Lech Lecha the souls which Avraham and Sarah made. How does one make a soul? When we teach another Torah he becomes a new person. Avraham Avinu gives with all heart.
The Gemara describes the following incident involving R' Chiya. The angel of death appeared to him wishing to take away his soul. The problem was that the angel of death was unable to carry out his mission because R' Chiya was constantly learning Torah. What did the angel of death do? He appeared to R' Chiya in the guise of a poor man and asked R' Chiya if he could spare some bread. Of course R' Chiya gave the man what he could. The angel of death responded: "if you can give a poor man bread then you can certainly give him your soul." How are we to understand this comparison? Bread after all can be replaced by spending a few more shekels in the store, all the money in the world will not replace the soul. How then can the angel of death tell R' Chiya that if he gave him bread then he can also give his soul?
I believe I heard the following from R' Chaim Shmuelevitz - when a person gives tzdaka it should give not only bread but his entire soul, as the pasuk states: "offer your soul to the hungry" (Yeshayahu 58:10). Obviously the poor man must be fed, but it must be with all his soul. This is what the angel of death was explaining to R' Chiya. R' Chiya accepted this and gave his soul to the angel of death.
Iyov asked Hashem why he suffered so much, after all "I opened my doors to the street" (Iyov 31:32), his home was open in all directions waiting to receive guests, in the same manner as was Avraham Avinu's. Why then, was Avraham Avinu rewarded for this, while Iyov was destined to a life of suffering? Hashem answered him that there was a difference between the way he treated his guests and the way Avraham Avinu did. Iyov gave fish to one accustomed to eat fish, and meat to one accustomed to eat meat. Avraham Avinu, would give meat even to those not accustomed to it. He gave his visitors "three tongues with mustard" (Baba Metzia 86b) without asking them whether or not this was what they normally ate. Avraham gave for the sake of giving, he created a need for acts of chesed. I heard this explanation from my father-in-law.
Avraham was emulating the ways of Hashem. We cannot understand the ways of Hashem but from what appears to us, He created the world because He wanted to do chesed. Before the creation, there was no need for chesed because there were no potential recipients of His kindness. Hashem created man, animals, vegetation, and other things in order to give. This was the mistake of the nesiim, they gave because there was a need not only in order to give.
The Torah commands us: "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the congregation of Hashem, even their tenth generation shall not enter the congregation of Hashem, to eternity. Because of the fact that they did not greet you with bread and water on the road when you were leaving Egypt" (Devarim 23:4-5). This refusal to aid the Jewish nation had such an effect on the people of Amon and Moav that we do not want them in our midst for all generations thereafter.
Does it really bother us that they did not greet the Jewish people with bread and water? My father-in-law z"l pointed out that it is difficult to understand why it even would have bothered us then, for "this forty year period Hashem, your G-d, was with you; you did not lack a thing" (Devarim 2:7). The Jewish nation had no need for their bread and water, their bread was manna from heaven, and their water was from Miriam's well. This strengthens the question, why should we be so obsessed with the fact that they did not greet the Jewish people with bread and water? It did not hurt the Jewish people then, it certainly has no effect on us now!
The explanation is, based on what we have been discussing, Amon and Moav should have had the desire to give whether or not the Jewish people were in need. Chesed was not part of their makeup. Avraham Avinu taught us olam chesed yibane - the world is created with chesed. When we perform acts of chesed we more closely resemble HaKadosh Baruch Hu.