S.A.L.T. - Wednesday
The opening verses of Parashat Vayeira tell of the time when Avraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent, and he saw three men, who he later discovered were angels sent by God. Thinking they were weary travelers, Avraham ran to them and asked them to remain so he could serve them a meal, explaining, “ki al kein avartem al avdekhem” – “once you have passed by your servant” (18:5).
Rashi, in explaining this phrase, writes, “Mei-achar she-avartem alai li-khvodi” – “once you have passed by me for my honor.” Interestingly, Rashi discerned within these words that Avraham expressed to the men that he felt “honored” that they passed near his tent. We might speculate that Rashi inferred this from Avraham’s reference to himself in this verse as “avdekhem” – “your servant,” humbly expressing deference and submission.
Rav Henoch Leibowitz, in Chiddushei Ha-leiv, notes the significance of the fact that Avraham felt honored by the presence of these men, whom, according to the Midrash (cited by Rashi to 18:4), he mistook for idolaters. Although Avraham was wealthy and renowned, and these were, in his mind, simple travelers who worshipped pagan gods, he nevertheless felt honored to be in their presence. He felt this way, Rav Leibowitz explains, because Avraham recognized the divine image within each and every human being. He appreciated the inherent, unique potential for greatness latent within every individual, and this appreciation led him to feel genuinely honored simply by any person’s presence.
Rav Leibowitz references in this context the Gemara’s account in Masekhet Menachot (53b) of an exchange between Avraham’s soul and God, at the time of the destruction of the Beit Ha-mikdash. God informed Avraham that He drove his descendants into exile because of their sins, whereupon Avraham burst into tears, and cried, “They have no way back?!” Avraham then heard a heavenly voice cite a verse from Sefer Yirmiyahu (11:16) which compares Am Yisrael to an olive. The voice said, “Just like this olive, its destiny is at its end – Israel, too, their destiny will be at their end.” God thus assured Avraham that despite his descendants’ current travails, they will eventually repent and be worthy of redemption. Rav Leibowitz notes that even Avraham, who, as mentioned, had a deep awareness of the inner greatness of each and every individual, failed to fully grasp the potential of Am Yisrael. Even he had difficulty believing in his descendants’ capacity to change, to improve, to lift themselves from the spiritual abyss into which they had fallen and redeem themselves. It turns out that our nation’s potential is greater than even what Avraham could have imagined.
Rav Leibowitz concludes:
By knowing and recognizing our own value, each of us will naturally refrain from sinning, and by recognizing one’s fellow’s value, he will desire and be happy to help him, just as Avraham felt that it was an honor for him to serve nomads who bowed to the dust of their feet. All the more so, then, we must feel that it is an honor for us to perform kindness for our brethren, the Children of Israel.
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