S.A.L.T. - Motzaei Shabbat
Parashat Vayeira begins by telling that God appeared to Avraham, and Avraham then saw three travelers – who turned out to be angels – whom he immediately approached and invited into his tent. (The Rambam, in his Guide for the Perplexed (2:43), understands the text differently, claiming that God “appeared” to Avraham by way of a prophetic vision of three angels who visited him.) One of these three angels informed Avraham that his wife, Sara, would soon conceive and deliver a child.
When Avraham saw the three wayfarers, he said, “Please, if I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass by your servant” (18:3). At first glance, it appears that Avraham made this request to the strangers, asking that they remain for a meal – as Avraham proceeded to offer – rather than continuing their journey. Rashi, however, after first presenting this explanation, cites the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 48:10) as explaining that Avraham here actually spoke to God, who had appeared to him before the three wayfarers arrived. Avraham respectfully asked God, “please do not pass by Your servant” – that He wait there, where He had spoken with Avraham, while Avraham tended to the travelers. This reading appears in the Gemara (Shabbat 127a), as well, which infers from this verse that “welcoming guests is greater than greeting the Divine Presence.” The Gemara understood that Avraham left God’s presence to tend to three wayfarers, demonstrating that extending hospitality is greater than private communion with the Almighty.
Rav Meshulam Feish of Tosh, in Avodat Avoda, explains the Gemara’s comment in light of the Midrashic tradition (cited by Rashi to 18:4) that the angels appeared as followers of a certain pagan cult, and so Avraham assumed they were idolaters. The Rebbe of Tosh writes that a person of Avraham’s level of piety was certainly capable of remaining in God’s presence even as he tended to guests; he did not need to “leave” God for the purpose of welcoming and serving the wayfarers. However, engaging with idol-worshippers would, almost invariably, have some slight effect on his spiritual devotion. Avraham felt responsible to welcome, host and befriend these idolaters in order to continue his mission of disseminating the belief in God, even if this might diminish somewhat from his own personal spiritual achievements. The Rebbe of Tosh cites in this context the Chatam Sofer’s famous comments (in the introduction to the Yoreh Dei’a section of his responsa) that Avraham was chosen to become the father of God’s treasured nation not only because of his unique piety, but also because of his commitment to teach, guide and inspire others, even at the expense of his own growth. Avraham was thus asking God to “wait” – to accept some slight diminishing of Avraham’s spirituality, as he tended to whom he mistook as pagan travelers.
The Rebbe of Tosh adds that this is also the meaning of the Gemara’s teaching, “welcoming guests is greater than greeting the Divine Presence.” He writes: “Bringing people who are distant from sanctity under the wings of the Divine Presence is greater and more important than ‘greeting the Divine Presence’ – meaning, than the light of the Divine Presence which a person himself can earn through his service [of God].” While we must constantly be striving to grow and advance in our own service of God, we must also be prepared to make small sacrifices from our own spiritual pursuits for the sake of assisting others in theirs.
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