Avrohom said, “My Master, if I have found favor in Your eyes do
not pass from before Your servant.1
Putting G-d On Hold
Be’er Yosef: The gemara 2 derives from here that tending to
guests is more important than receiving the Shechinah. Avrohom here implored
Hashem not to leave while he, Avrohom, excused himself to receive his
guests. The simple intent of the gemara would seem to be that the mitzvah of
tending to guests is more important than the mitzvah of receiving the
Shechinah. Yet this cannot be the gemara’s point. It is a well-established
halachic principle that one should not pass over a mitzvah – even for the
purpose of fulfilling a different mitzvah. Once a person begins a mitzvah,
he ought to continue with it. He should not interrupt the performance of a
mitzvah even for the purpose of acting on a different one. The poskim
emphasize that this holds true even if the second mitzvah is recognized as
more important than the first. Halacha would have told Avraham to stay put
and continue with the first mitzvah he began – that of receiving the Shechinah.
It is possible that receiving the Shechinah here was not a mitzvah at all,
but rather part of the heavenly reward granted to Avrohom for having
fulfilled the mitzvah of bris milah. The encounter with the Shechinah was
not a mitzvah, but a heavenly gift of appreciation to Avrohom for passing
another one of the ten tests to which Hashem had subjected him. Because it
was not a mitzvah, deciding to forego the experience was entirely his
option. Avraham decided he would rather perform the mitzvah of hachnosas
orchim than enjoy a prophetic episode.
Avrohom could conceive of no greater pleasure in life than a close dialogue
with Hashem. Yet, his passion for chesed prompted him to give up this
pleasure in favor of the active performance of a mitzah. This is consistent
with the Mishnah’s 3 finding that a moment of mitzvos in this
world is superior to all the eternity of the next world. Avrohom’s choice
was therefore consistent with the standard hierarchy we are taught by Chazal.
It is so consistent, that we must now ask what the gemara meant to tell us.
Avrohom’s choice was predictable! Why is it even worthy of note?
Here is a possible reason. While forgoing a Divine reward in order to
perform a mitzvah is appropriate, we might have argued that this would not
apply to the mitzvah of tending to guests. Leaving the presence of HKBH in
order to care for some mortal humans seems like a slight to G-d. Extending
hospitality to guests is a mitzvah only because every human is created in
the image of the Divine. Serving the image should not be more urgent than
directly serving the One Who confers that image!
Despite this argument, Avrohom did indeed opt to put Hashem “on hold” while
he tended to the passers-by. Avrohom’s love for the mitzvah of hachnosas
orchim was so overwhelming that it pushed his decision in that direction.
And, by “waiting” for Avrohom to finish, Hashem gave His approval!
Let some water be brought and wash your feet…I will fetch a bit
of bread…Avraham ran to the cattle, took a calf… 4
Be’er Yosef: Each of Avraham’s actions in ministering to the angels was
rewarded in the form of some payoff to his descendants, according to the
gemara. 5 The way in which the reward came paralleled the degree
of Avraham’s personal involvement. What Avraham did entirely on his own was
rewarded through something that came directly from Hashem. Where Avraham did
not act directly, but instructed others to act, the reward came though some
agent of G-d. Thus, Hashem directly caused the wind that swept in the quail
for the Jews of the wilderness to eat. This was in consideration of Avraham
running to himself choose a calf to be slaughtered. Providing water for the
three guests resulted in that same group of Jews receiving water to slake
their thirst in the harsh, arid landscape that separated Egypt from Israel.
But since Avraham did not offer the water directly, but simply ordered it
brought by someone else, the water in the wilderness also came through an
intermediary – Moshe, who had to strike the rock.
This is surprising. Was this the only occasion at which water was served to
guests in Avraham’s home? Avraham lived a life of chesed! Surely there were
many occasions at which Avraham brought out water himself, rather than
through a servant or family member. Why weren’t those acts of chesed
rewarded by Hashem directly providing Avraham’s offspring with water?
The point seems to be that all of the wonderful acts of chesed performed by
Avraham were within the limits of Man’s natural capacity. They would be
richly rewarded – but only within the limits of Nature. During the sojourn
through the wilderness, no natural course of survival was available to the
Bnei Yisrael. Assistance could come only in the form of overt miracles.
Merit for such miracles would come only from mitzvos performed beyond the
usual, natural limits of Man’s capacity.
This is why the miracles mentioned above (and a few more that the gemara
mentions) were all dependant upon this single episode of caring for the
three angels. Avraham’s role pushed and broke the limits of human output.
Weak from a painful procedure at an advanced age, Avraham will simply not
take “no” for an answer. He persists in looking for guests, despite the
brutal heat. Their lowly appearance does not deter him; he lavishes upon
them food usually reserved for royalty.
Such out of the ordinary behavior merited out of the ordinary response by
Hashem. It merited overt miracles. These miracles, however, matched the
meritorious deeds that allowed them. Deeds performed directly by Avraham
were repaid, measure for measure, by miracles carried on by Hashem Himself.
Deeds performed though the assistance of intermediaries were repaid through
miracles that also required intermediaries.
1. Based on Be’er Yosef, Bereishis 18:3
2. Shabbos 127A
3. Avos 4:22
4. Based on Be’er Yosef, Bereishis 18:4,5,7
5. Bava Metzia 86B