Realistic Ramifications

 Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            Parshat Vayeira begins with an incredible scene of Avraham Avinu, three days post his circumcision surgery, leaving Hashem's presence to run to greet and cater to three strangers who appear on the road near his tent. The Torah records how Avraham Avinu beseeches the travelers to stop at his tent and be his guests. Then the Torah records the details of Avraham's service to these men/angels. Avraham says, " 'Let some water be brought and wash your feet and recline beneath the tree. I will fetch a morsel of bread...' So Abraham hastened to the tent of Sarah and said, 'Hurry,... knead and make cakes.' Then Avraham ran to the cattle, took a calf... and gave it to the youth... to prepare it... He stood over them beneath the tree and they ate."

            Rashi explains that Avraham wanted water to be brought to wash away any dust of idol worship, since he assumed these strangers were local Arabs. In very terse language that demands exploration, Rashi tells us that Hashem repaid Avraham's descendants according to Avraham's own, personal involvement. Because Avraham delegated bringing the water rather than bringing the water personally, when Bnei Yisroel would be in the desert, water would be provided by Hashem's delegate Moshe, rather than directly by Hashem. Rashi cites the verse in Bamidbar, "And Moshe lifted his hand and hit the rock..."

            Rabbi Svei in Ruach Eliyahu quotes the Midrash that explains how Hashem repaid Avraham's descendents in the desert according to Avaraham's direct or indirect involvement in each step of this mitzvah. We've already seen how Hashem delegated bringing water to Bnei Yisroel through Moshe, as Avraham had delegated bringing water. Rabbi Svei notes that conversely, when Avraham was directly involved, Hashem was also directly involved in the parallel chessed in the desert. Avraham ran to prepare food for the strangers, so Hashem Himself sent the manna to feed Bnei Yisroel in the desert. Similarly, as Avraham personally stood over the visitors and served them as they reclined under the shade of the tree, Avraham stood over us and personally protected us with the shade of the Clouds of Glory, and He has further gifted us with the related holiday of Sukkot.

            What is so significant about these actions that warrant these rewards, asks Rabbi Druck? After all, Avraham was not given these rewards for planting the tree in the first place, nor are we so greatly rewarded for our acts of chessed, of tzedaka, giving food or drink to someone, or otherwise providing for them. Further, wonders the Machaneh Dan, why does Rashi cite this second example of Moshe's hitting the rock when he was punished and barred from entering Eretz Yisroel rather than the first time he hit the rock and was not punished? Why fault Avraham Avinu at all? Rabbi Yisroel of Koznitz explains, in Avodat Yisroel, that there were good reasons perhaps for Avraham to delegate this work. First, Avraham did not want to be influenced by the avodah zoro that may still be clinging to the dust of the wayfarers' shoes, or, on a positive note, he wanted to involve other members of his household in the mitzvah.

            Rabbi Mordechai Druck z”l makes some interesting observations about doing chsesed. In Dorash Mordechai, he notes that doing chesed is generally not totally altruistic. Even when we don't expect gratitude in return, most of us experience a sense of satisfaction, of a release from a disturbing thought or feeling of pity about the recipient of our chesed. Not so Avraham Avinu. His focus was not on his feelings and his need to help the other, but strictly on his desire to give even if the other had no need. In a similar respect, writes Rabbi Druck z”l, Avraham Avinu was different from Iyov/Job. Iyov was certainly a baal chesed, giving to many needy people. But Iyov stayed in his tent waiting for guests to arrive, while Avraham went out looking to do chesed. Further, while Iyov supplied a person with all the needs he was used to, he never went beyond. If the food his guest normally ate was simple, that's what Iyov served him. Only if his guest was used to delicacies would Iyov serve him elegantly. Not so Avraham. Avraham gave from the fullness of his heart, offering better than what they were used to and thereby giving them great dignity. Avraham went beyond and gave of himself, and therefore he was worthy of rewards that also went beyond the norm.

            Rabbi Goldwicht z”l approaches our theme from a related perspective. We know that everything comes into existence, everything one creates is first an idea, as our Sages stated, "Sof maaseh bemachshavah techilah." While we recognize this reality in the physical realm, whether it's creating the blueprints for a building or planning a simcha, this is even more true in the spiritual realm. How much spirituality one creates with even a simple mitzvah will be effective and resonate in the spiritual realm, based on the thoughts and motivation behind it. Davening out of obligation and routine is not the same as approaching the moment with a desire to connect to Hashem.

            To illustrate this point, Rabbi Goldwicht z”l cites the actions of Rabbi Chiya, as cited in the Gemarrah. This was a time when people easily forgot their Torah learning. Rabbi Chiya wanted to strengthen their "learning memory". He needed to create the desire for the learning from the inception of the process, the thought itself. What did he do? He planted flax to create netting, to catch the deer, from which the parchments could be obtained, upon which the words of Torah would be written, from which the youngest children would already learn Torah. In this way, each step of the process, from its very inception, was imbued with kedushah/holiness. Today, a synagogue or a yeshivah built with 100% kosher money and with workers who are all God fearing would have greater spiritual success with its members or students than one not built on these principles.

            What was Avraham Avinu's mindset during this entire encounter? From his first thought, Avraham sought to emulate Hashem. As Hashem offers chesed to all, and as Hashem has no need to comply with societal norms, so did Avraham see the tzelem Elokhim in every human being, to treat each with dignity regardless of societal norms, and to do so even when there were good reasons to take a day off. The Torah records each step of the process and preparation as well as the final results because each was infused with spiritual thoughts. It is precisely because of these spiritual thoughts that the food itself rose above the physical, and the angels were able to consume it.

            Every act of chesed we do, no matter how small, should have the element of spirituality in it, of seeing the tzelem Elokim in the recipient. Every time we do chesed, we must realize that we are not only following our Patriarch's model, but actually emulating Hashem Who constantly does chesed with each of us. Just as every sofer who writes a Sefer Torah must imbue every action relating to that Torah with spirituality, from preparing the quills and the parchment to writing each letter, writes Rabbi Svei z”l in Ruach Eliyahu, so must we imbue every act of ours with spiritual purpose.

            There is special significance to Avraham's behavior also because of its timing. Avraham had just undergone circumcision. He has now become the first Jew, writes Rabbi Druck z”l quoting the Chidushei Harim. This act of chesed is the first mitzvah he is doing as a Jew. Therefore, this activity will have special import for the future of the nation that will descend from him. Everything Avraham Avinu will now do will support the world through the chesed he is modeling for his descendants.

            Further, writes Rabbi Salant z”l in Be'er Yosef, the hachnosat orchim Avraham Avinu does now differs from all other times. At other times, he was feeling well. Now he was post surgery, and his actions now showed tremendous devotion and self - sacrifice. As Avraham went above and beyond the norm here, so will Hashem go above and beyond for Bnei Yisroel in the desert. It is about offering to give, to be God-like, not about the needs of the other.

            But just as each positive act has ramifications for the future, so does each omission, notes Rabbi Igbui in Chochmat Hamatzpun. Because Avraham Avinu used an emissary to draw the water, so Hashem provided water to Bnei Yisroel through Moshe Rabbenu.

            Hashgacha protis/individual providence can extend to both positive and negative areas. It is also effectively paired with our idea of midah kneged midah/measure for measure, writes Rabbi Ezrachi in Bircat Mordechai. Further, the effects can be felt long into the future. It is our actions, not the Heavens, that decide the rewards or consequence of our actions. Because Avraham did not personally provide water for the wayfarers, Hashem did not "Personally" provide water to Bnei Yisroel. Because Moshe was now tasked with bringing forth the water, he hit the rock instead of talking to it. Because of this sin, Hashem barred him from entering Eretz Yisroel. Had Moshe entered the Land with Bnei Yisroel, he would have built the Beit Hamikdosh, it would have been eternal through his merit, and we would never have been exiled. We can never know the long- term ramifications of one simple act of chesed or of one omission in its performance. As Rabbi Goldstein adds, every act we do, every way we do it every detail in its performance must be done with simcha/joy, for we do not know its ripple effect. We tend to sell ourselves short and don't even strive to become greater, observes Rabbi Svei z”l. We need to do our part, to plant the seed, and Hashem will make it grow.

            We still must ask why Avraham chose to delegate this task of bringing the water to his son Yishmael, as our Sages believe. Certainly, it was not a matter of laziness, for, as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein tz"l points out, Avraham did most of the harder work himself. However, Avraham wanted to use this opportunity as a teachable moment so that Yishmael would learn to do chesed. Yishmael should understand that mitzvah performance is available to everyone, not just to those of high spiritual stature like his father. But Rabbi Feinstein z”l notes a few limitations in Avraham's reasoning that could have added to Hashem's judgment. On the one hand, performing the mitzvah himself would have provided a valuable role model to Yishmael on how to perform a mitzvah. He would have seen the joy Avraham experienced and would have understood that mitzvah performance is a wonderful experience rather than a necessary chore. When we regularly do the mitzvah personally and give our children the opportunity to do the mitzvah on our behalf only once in a while, it becomes a privilege rather than an obligation. Unless time is of the essence, (or special expertise is required) we should always try to do the mitzvah ourselves rather than delegate it to someone else.

            Nevertheless, Avraham had an excellent reason for perhaps not performing every step of the mitzvah. He was already an old man of ninety-nine, and he had just undergone his brit milah. Aren't we  nit picking for one flaw? There is, however, one very valid point that Rabbi Zaidel Epstein z”l makes, heard from Rabbi Levovitz z”l. The reasons may be excellent, but if someone does not do the work, one does not get rewarded. So, Hashem rewarded Avraham's descendants according to Avraham's work.

            The Aderet Yosef makes an even deeper connection between Avraham's thought process and that  of Moshe Rabbenu's. The Aderet Yosef posits that Avraham understood water to have purifying power in its own right. Therefore it wouldn't matter who brought the water to wash away the idol worship of the wayfarers and bring them to a belief in God. However, bringing someone to a belief in God is a great mitzvah in itself and should not be delegated, for the verse states that Hashem Himself throws the purifying waters upon us/vezorakti aleichem mayim tehorim ...Avraham's bringing the water himself would have had a greater impact and would have merited a greater reward.

            Moshe Rabbenu made a similar error in his reasoning when he hit the rock instead of speaking to it, posits the Aderet Yosef, Rabbi Yosef Taussig.  Water coming from the rock, no matter how it came, would produce the same result of glorifying Hashem's name. Thus, he hit the rock and was punished for the diminished impact of the miracle. That's why Rashi chose this second verse where Hashem clearly states that Moshe failed to sanctify Him to illustrate Avraham's omission.

            When we have the opportunity to do a mitzvah, it behooves us to be mindful of every aspect of its performance, for we cannot know what the ramifications may be on others in this world and in the Heavenly spheres. Hashem is exceedingly exact in His accounting and, although we hope for His giving us the benefit of the doubt, we must do our best to be deserving of that benefit as well.