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S.A.L.T. - Sunday

Rav David Silverberg

          The opening verses of Parashat Vayeira tell the famous story of the three wayfarers – who were, as we later discover, angels – whom Avraham graciously greeted and served a robust meal.  The Gemara discusses this story in Masekhet Bava Metzia (87a), and makes several observations about the hospitality Avraham extended to his guests.  One observation is that Avraham “said a little but did much” – paraphrasing Shammai’s timeless teaching, “Emor me’at va-asei harbei” – “Speak little and do much.”  The Gemara notes that when Avraham extended his invitation, he offered to bring the men bread (18:5), but he ended up serving them also meat (18:8).  This demonstrates the value of making modest promises which we then strive to exceed, rather than making grandiose promises which we might then be unable to fulfill.

          Another example of this quality is Avraham’s offer to bring his guests “me’at mayim” – “a little water” to wash their feet (18:4), which were, undoubtedly, dirty and aching after their journey.  We may presume that Avraham ultimately provided them with far more than “a little” water, and generously gave them as much water as they needed to wash themselves.

          Rav Elimelech Shapiro of Grodzhisk, in Divrei Elimelekh, finds deeper, symbolic significance in Avraham’s offer of “me’at mayim.”  Rashi famously cites the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 50:4) as explaining that the angels appeared to Avraham as adherents of a certain pagan cult, which worshipped the dust on their feet.  Avraham therefore made a point of having them wash their feet before entering his property, as he was not prepared to allow an object of idolatry in the home.  In light of the Midrash’s explanation of the purpose served by the water, the Rebbe of Grodzhisk suggests, the small quantity of water which Avraham offered may perhaps become symbolically significant.  There are times when our nation finds itself covered with “idolatry,” mired in sin and plagued by spiritual ills.  Like the wayfarers’ feet, we might occasionally feel “covered” with “dirt,” overrun by negative character traits and bad habits, that require thorough “cleansing.”  Avraham’s offer of “me’at mayim,” the Rebbe of Grodzhisk writes, might allude to the fact that we only need “a little water” to begin the process of “cleansing,” of spiritual recovery.  We should not be discouraged by the thick layer of “dirt” that covers us or our nation, by the many different kinds of corrosive spiritual ills with which we are afflicted.  We should instead make the commitment to bring “me’at mayim,” just “a little water,” to begin the “cleansing” process by taking small steps forward, by undertaking modest, realistic measures to improve ourselves and our nation, trusting that God will help us finish the process, one stage at a time, until we become who we hope to be and are supposed to be.



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