It is a blistering hot day. Abraham, that paragon of hospitality, is sitting
by the door anxiously looking for passersby that he can invite into his
home. Suddenly, he sees three dust-covered desert nomads trudging down the
road. Before he brings them into his house, Abraham asks them to wash their
feet, because he suspects they might be pagans who worship the dust of their
feet. Then he feeds them lavishly.
Before they leave, the travelers, really angels in disguise, inform Abraham
that Sarah would give birth in a year. Sarah overhears and bursts into
laughter. After all, Abraham is one hundred years and she herself is a
sprightly ninety, not exactly the height of the child-bearing years.
The Almighty, however, does not consider the situation humorous. He asks
Abraham why Sarah found this a laughing matter, and Abraham, in turn,
rebukes Sarah for laughing.
Let us consider for a moment. What had Sarah done wrong? After all, she did
not know that the dusty wayfarers were really angels. Why then should she
have thought that their blessings were efficacious? Can she be blamed for
finding the fanciful good wishes of these wayfarers laughable?
The commentators explain that Sarah might indeed not have known that the
wayfarers blessing her were angels, and this was exactly the reason she
deserved to be reprimanded. She saw before her people who dressed
differently, spoke differently, thought differently, and therefore, she
looked down on them. She did not consider the blessings of such people
But how could she judge who is worthy and who is not? How could she know
what lay within the hearts and souls of other people? How could she
determine their inner value?
This was the reason Sarah was reprimanded. She took one look at these dusty
wayfarers and instantly jumped to the conclusion that they were worthless
people whose blessings were equally worthless.
A young man approached the stately house and knocked on the door.
There was no response. He knocked again. Still no response.
Suddenly, he heard a hoarse voice speak. "What are you doing here, young
He turned and saw an old man dressed in tramp's rags sitting on the ground,
his back against the wall. He had not noticed him before.
"I've come to see the great sage, old man," the young man replied. "I want
to become his disciple and learn from his knowledge and wisdom."
"Hah!" said the tramp. "He doesn't have so much knowledge, and he has even
"How dare you?" the young man replied in a flash of anger. "What does a
person like you know about knowledge and wisdom?" He turned back to the door
and resumed knocking. Still no response.
The following day, the young man returned. His knock was answered by a
servant who showed him into the presence of the sage. Amazingly, the sage
seemed to be the identical twin of the beggar.
"You recognize me, don't you?" said the sage, "I was the man sitting on the
ground. I am afraid I can not accept you as my disciple."
"But why?" the young man asked plaintively. "How was I to know it was really
"You saw a man," said the sage, "and based on his outward appearance you
decided that he could now nothing about knowledge or wisdom. You can never
be a disciple of mine."
In our own lives, we are called upon to make value judgments about other
people all the time. Whether it is in a business, social or any other
setting, we tend to jump to conclusions about new people. We rely on first
impressions. We look at their clothing, their accessories, their bearing,
their air of sophistication or lack of it, and we make assumptions about
their intelligence, character, talents and social standing. First
impressions are certainly important, and we should always try to make a good
first impression on others. Nonetheless, it is unfair to pigeonhole and
stereotype people on the basis of external appearance. Appearances can be
deceiving, and we could be missing out on some very fine blessings.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.