This week’s parsha imparts to us lessons for life–how we should conduct ourselves in our daily affairs and in our relationships.
Interestingly enough, these teachings are not imparted as commands, but rather through example, for in the end, that is the best way to teach proper conduct (i.e.; If your children hear you say “Thank you” and “Please”, they too will say “Thank you” and “Please”, etc.). I will mention just a few of the teachings that are highlighted in this parsha which shape our Jewish character, and they all center around chesed–loving kindness.
1) Bikur Cholim–Visiting the Sick–Abraham is recovering from his circumcision and is visited by G-d Himself (Genesis 18:1). Interestingly enough, the text simply says, “And G-d appeared to him. (Omitting the Patriarch’s name) so that we should not think that it is only the great and righteous who merit a visit. All those who are ill should be visited.
2) Hachnosses Orchim–Welcoming Guests–From our father Abraham, we learn the importance of extending hospitality to wayfarers and having an open house. Indeed, the chuppah (marriage canopy) open on all sides, is modeled after the tent of Abraham who, with great devotion and love, provided his guests with food and lodging. This teaching applies to all guests, for initially, Abraham thought that his visitors were desert nomads.
3) Enthusiasm–Abraham ran to greet his guests, and he ran to serve them, teaching that when we perform a mitzvah, it should be done with alacrity and joyous enthusiasm, for the manner in which we perform such mitzvos is important.(i.e.; grudgingly or happily; angrily or kindly, warmly or coldly).
4) Escorting Guests–It is written when the angels took their leave from the tent of our father Abraham (Genesis, 18:16), he walked with them to escort them–teaching us that not only is it amitzvah to invite guests to our homes, but when they depart, we should accompany them (for example, if we live in an apartment building, we should escort them to the elevator. If we have a private home, we should walk with them for a few feet from our door.
5) Lfum Tzara Agra–The pain is commensurate with the reward–Although Abraham was in immense pain due to his circumcision, he transcended his pain so that he might perform themitzvah of Hachnoses Orchim, teaching us that the greater the effort–mesiras nefesh–and sacrifice that the mitzvah entails, the greater our reward (i.e.: you go to synagogue despite the distance and inclement weather. You go to study Torah despite your fatigue; you give tzedukah, despite the fact that you are on a tight budget).
6) Makom K’Vua–Designating a set place for prayer–This teaches that we should have our own special place for prayer in our home as well as in Synagogue. (Genesis, 18:33)
7) Ha Mispallel B’Ad Chaver–He who prays on behalf of another when he himself needs that very same thing, is answered first–G-d granted Sarah a son after Abraham prayed for Avimelech to be blessed with children. (Genesis, 21:1)
If ever there was a need to intensify our acts of chesed it is today. Our world is in crisis. If we relate to one another with chesed, Hashem will relate with chesed to us.
Connecting with G-d
“Vayera elav HaShem …” And G-d appeared unto him (Genesis 18:1) are the opening words of this week`s parsha. Interestingly enough, at no time does the Torah identify to whom G-d appeared, and yet we know that HaShem came to visit our father Abraham who was recovering from his circumcision.
Our sages question why the text omits mentioning the patriarch`s name. Why does he remain anonymous? Surely he had many merits which rendered him worthy of the Divine visitation.
There is a profound teaching behind this omission. The true greatness of Avraham (which means father of all nations) could not only be found in his incredible chesed–loving kindness, his all encompassing faith in G-d, his ability to sacrifice, but in his genuine humility. ..”Behold, I am but dust and ashes,” (Genesis 18:27) he proclaimed. He totally abnegated himself, divested himself of his ego and became a complete spiritual being. It was this humility that enabled him to connect with G-d.
All of us who would strive to have a relationship with the Almighty should attempt to emulate Abraham`s example–For our post 9/11 generation, this should not be too difficult, for if anyone should realize how fragile life is, how, in an instant, all our possessions can be wiped out and our very lives forfeit, it is we. Our entire world is engulfed in flames. There is no place that is secure. We can all echo the words of the Patriarch: “I am but dust and ashes…”–Our only hope is to turn to G-d.
Spirituality is not something tangible or material. Therefore the more self-effacing we are, the more spiritual we will be, and the more profound our relationship with HaShem.
Our sages impart yet another reason why Abraham`s name is omitted as G-d makes His sick-call. Had the Torah identified the patriarch, we might have concluded that G-d visits only the righteous. But to the Almighty, every human being is holy and the Shechina hovers over every sick bed. Therefore, the lesson that we must glean from this is that we too must visit the sick and express concern, not only for friends, family and those who are prominent, but to all those in need.
Acting upon this teaching, Bikur Cholim–visiting the sick. societies have been an integral part of Jewish life throughout the centuries. In the very words, “Bikur Cholim” are to be found timeless lessons as well. The Hebrew word “bikur,” is related to bikoret — investigation, teaching that when we visit someone who is ill, we should investigate and determine how we may best help the patient and family members. The word bikur is also related to “boker”–morning….reminding us to bring cheer and sunshine with our very presence and not to depart from the sick room without pronouncing a prayer for good health. The importance of visiting the sick is just one of the concepts of chesed that we can learn from this parsha.
In these days of crisis for our people, as our world becomes more and more threatening, our best response is performing acts of chesed–loving kindness. Let`s do it. It`s life transforming!
By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis