Vayeira 5762 – Gilayon #211





Shabbat Shalom The weekly parsha commentary – parshat


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Parashat Vayera


NOW HIS WIFE
GAZED BEHIND HIM,

AND SHE [IT?] BECAME A PILLAR OF
SALT

 (Bereishit 19:26)

 

“And
she became a pillar of salt” –
Lot’s Wife or the Earth?

Gazed
behind him” –
Said Rabbi Yizhak: She sinned using salt; on the night that the
messengers came to Lot, what did she do? She went to all her neighbors and said
to them: Give me salt, for we have guests. Her intention was that the townfolk
should be aware of them, therefore “she became a pillar of salt”.
(Bereishit
Rabba, Parasha 51)

“She [it] became a pillar of salt” – Wrote the sage, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra:It
became”
the earth. Our sages said: “She became”
his wife.
(Rabbi Behaye, Bereishit 19:26)

And she
became a pillar of salt” –
She sinned using salt, as Rashi explained.
Therefore, when she disobeyed the messengers’ command, she was stricken along
with Sodom. Another explanation: “Now his wife gazed behind him and all
the earth
became a pillar of salt”
for [it is written] “By brimstone
and salt, is all its land burnt… like the overturning of Sodom and Amorah…”

 (Hizkuni ibid., ibid.)

 

PRAY DO NOT PASS BY YOUR SERVANT!

Yossi Engleberg

          Our
father Avraham teaches us the great principle of hakhnassat orchim, the
lesson of opening one’s home to passers-by, to the hungry, to the ‘different’.
His tent was open in all directions, in all weather. The heat of day had no
bearing on his desire to bring people to his home. His post-circumcision pains
did not prevent him from running towards his guests. “He thought them to be
nomadic Arabs”, writes Rashi; despite their looking ‘different’, he did not
allow them to pass by, he brought them into his home. Avraham, our father,
promised only a piece of bread, but he prepared a much more sumptuous menu. As
the Talmud,
(Bava
Metsia 87a)
points out, “the righteous
speak little, but do a lot.”

          The mitzvah of hospitality has, throughout the
generations, been considered to be a cornerstone of acts of hessed in Jewish
society. “Receiving passers-by is greater than receiving the Holy Presence”
(Shabbat 127a) indicating that this mitzvah is of the highest priority on the
ladder of interpersonal relations. Radak (Rabbi David Kimhi) wrote in clear
language that “This story was written so that man may learn how to act towards
people with hessed and good deeds, to bring people (passers-by) into his
home… thus it is proper to do so, and therefore was this story written, that
one should learn from it derekh eretz – proper conduct. Hospitality
serves the passers-by, but at the same time it improves the character of the
person who gives of his own.

          Various commentators reveal to us the extent of
Avraham’s derkh eretz, the strong urge to give to the passer-by and to
bring him beneath the shelter of his roof. “For you have, after all, passed
your servant’s way!”
“It cannot be that you will not eat with me,” expounds
Radak. Our father Avraham tries to convince the passers-by to become his
guests: “But I know you to be modest and bashful”
(Hizkuni). Avraham does not desist until he succeeds: “Do
thus, as you have spoken.”

In the mussarethics –
literature throughout the generations there are tales of rabbis, Chassidic
leaders, and doers of good deeds fulfilling (and sometimes of their failure to
fulfill) the mitzvah of hakhnasat orhim
of hospitality. “My lords, pray do not
pass”
was, on occasion, interpreted as having been addressed to
the most important of them.
There were householders who brought into their
homes only wealthy or important people. Others understood that the invitation
of Father Avraham included all three messengers; in the words of Ramban, “I
consider it correct to understand that he addressed all of them as ‘lords’.”

          Our life style has been transformed beyond
recognition. In those days, when a peddler would be away from home for extended
periods, moving from place to place, spending Shabbat in a Jewish home and
feeling that he was wanted in a friendly Jewish environment, provided the strength
for continuation of the tiring travels in search of subsistence.

          Those days are gone. Today, people travel from end
of the word to the other on matters of livelihood. The level of income and
well-being of our generation is incalculably higher. These create new concepts,
such as vacation and leisure culture. People travel all over the world for
pleasure, not only for livelihood.

          Modern times have also changed attitudes towards the
idea of hakhnassat orhim. This change has affected both giver and
recipient. On the one hand, there are people who are often away from home and
prefer not to enter the home of another Jew; Jewish hotels and restaurants are
available, and the social need to be in an encouraging environment has dwindled.
On the other hand, there are still people who come to synagogue Shabbat eve,
hopeful that they may be invited to a local Jewish home, in the best Jewish
tradition, in order to intensify the feeling of Shabbat, and in the hope that
they not be alone. There are communities in Israel and abroad where this mitzva
of hakhnassat orhim is still being observed in warm and traditional
fashion.

          But there are communities in which observance of
this mizvah is impossible , and parents have no opportunity to show – in
practice – their children how the mizvah is observed, i.e., the bringing
of the stranger and the ‘different’ into the home without prior warning. This
is because strangers do not visit this town. If there is a stranger in the
synagogue on Shabbat, he is inevitably the guest of a local family. There are
places where there are even no soldiers in the area who enter the synagogue and
would only be too happy to be invited to a home for a Shabbat meal.

Children who live in such communities are unable to experience what it
means to have a stranger in the home Friday night. They do not see how the
Shabbat table is laid with an extra setting, in the event that the father bring
home a guest from the synagogue – or how the additional plate is placed
immediately upon father’s arrival, accompanied by a guest he has just met. In
such places, the mitzvah of hospitality is a theoretical subject, not a
law for practical application. Children such as these do not hear sentences
such as: “Where can one find Shabbat hospitality?” or “Do you already have a
place to spend Shabbat?” The experience of learning generosity, of sharing with
another who may not have what to eat, is on the verge of disappearing (thank
God!) from the world. Davka in world blessed with abundance and with
spacious facilities for hospitality, uninvited guests do not appear.

          It seems to me that in these days there is an
obligation to give the mitzva of hakhnasat orhim a new, expanded,
interpretation, by bringing weak and different population not only into the
house, but first of all, into the heart. Not to reject the “different”, but to
accept him into our midst, into society, into the community. There are people
who are incapable of bringing the “different” into their homes, but we can at
least demand of them that they not resist the establishment of neighborhood
hostels or sheltered apartments in their neighborhoods for the handicapped or
those undergoing post-trauma rehabilitation. Hakhnassat orhim includes
extending a hand willing to accept also the different – whoever they are,
wherever they are.

          For many people, such a step poses a great
psychological difficulty. Therefore, if we cannot accept upon ourselves father
Avraham’s attribute of “and he ran towards them,” let us as least begin
with the first step of “Pray do not pass by your servant” – that they be
accepted by us as they are. If our help is needed, let us attend to their needs
as if they were real guests in our homes; let us not distance them from our
surroundings and our society. Perhaps Rashi had this in mind when he wrote “For
you have, after all…  
since you
have passed by me in my honor, in honor of he who performs acts of hessed.

          Many people are generous in their contributions to
charity. The monies collected make possible more encompassing – and more
professional – treatment for a greater number of incapacitated. But there is a
lack of many persons who add the human aspect hospitality for the different.

          It is possible to actively observe the mitzvah of
Hakhnasat orhim, as did our father Avraham. Avraham was sorry that there
were no guests in his home; he actively sought guests. But there is also the
option of observing the mitzvah passively. In any case, if the mitzvah
comes your way, do not waste the opportunity.

Yossi Engleberg is director of the Ilan Shelter for the Handicapped in
Gilo

 

Now God
was seen by him”

This is intellectual
perception, in no way physical vision. (Guide for the Perplexed, Book I,
Chap. 4)

 

He lifted up his eyes and saw:
here, three men…” –
The responsibility of protection and escort is more
important than concern for physical needs and reception of the Holy Presence

The reward
for escort
is greater than everything and it is a law enacted by our father
Avraham and the way of hessed which practiced; he would feed passers-by
and give them drink, and accompany them. Greater is the bringing in of
passers-by than reception of the Shekhina, for it is written “And he saw,
here, three men”
and his escorting them more than he received them. Said
our Sages: Whoever does not escort is as one who sheds blood.

(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, “Laws of Mourning” 14:2)

 

“Our hands
did not shed this blood”
Did it really occur to anyone that the elders of the
Bet Din are murderers?! But [the meaning of this is that] we did not see him,
and we sent him off without food and without escort. And the priests say “Atone
for your people Israel.”

(Rashi,
Devarim 21:7, based on a Midrash Halakha)

 

Who sees people, and who sees angels?

You find
prophets who saw the angels as if they were human individuals. Thus it is said:
and here were three men.” There were prophets who perceived him as a
frightening and terrifying man: and some who saw him as fire… To Avraham,
whose power was great, they appeared in the likeness of men
; to Lot whose
power was weak, they appeared in the likeness of angels.

(Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed, Part II, Chap. 6)

 

There is no “preventative” punishment

Where
he is” –
He is judged according to what he does now, and not according to
what he will do in the future. The ministering angels accused and said: “Master
of the Universe, for one whose seed is destined to kill your children with
thirst you raise a well?!” He replied: What is he now… a good person or a
wicked one?”

They replied:
“A good person.”

He said to
them: “According to his current actions do I judge him,” and this is [the
meaning of] “where he is.”

(Rashi, Bereishit, 21:17)

 

“Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, do
not do anything to him! –
The
Akeida test as a process of understanding God’s will

“Do not
stretch out your hand” –
to slaughter. Avraham said to God: “If so, you brought me
here for nothing. Let me wound him and draw a bit of blood.”

He said to
him. “Do not do anything to him” – do not wound him.”

 

“For
now do I know” –
Said Rabbi Abba: Said Avraham to Him, I set my case before
you: Yesterday you told me “For it is through Yizhak that seed will be
called by your name”,
and later you said “Take your son . . and offer
him up”.
Now you tell me,
Do not stretch out your hand against the lad!?”

Said The Holy
One, Blessed Be He, to him: I shall not abrogate my covenant, and I shall not
deviate from my word; when I said to you “Take” I did not deviate from
my word. I did not tell you “slaughter him” but rather “offer him
up”-
raise him up, and lower him.

(Rashi, Bereishit 22:12)

 

 

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Translation:
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