Food For the Soul
A Tree, an Orchard and a 5-Star Hotel
The Parsha Vayera focuses on the life and times of our patriarch Abraham, the first Jew. Every incident in his life is significant and contains valuable insights for us, his descendants. The Torah states that, “Abraham planted an aishel (tree) in Beer Sheva” (Genesis 21:33). What should we learn from this? The importance of Arbor Day?
It is known that Abraham was in the business of welcoming guests. He invited complete and total strangers to come into his tent, eat his food, drink his wine, and relax from their journey. Abraham was a real mensch. It just so happened that he worked in the desert. Due to a tremendous lack of shade he planted a tree. What better way to welcome a sweaty wayfarer than with a well-shaded seat?
As the saying goes, “two Jews three opinions”—so too in our case. The Talmud lists two other opinions as to the nature of this aishel. According to one opinion it was not a shade tree, but rather an entire orchard of fruit trees. Once again Abraham’s focus was on the guests. Wouldn’t it be lovely after a long trek through the desert to run into a ripe piece of fruit? I think so. A third opinion maintains that Abraham built an entire five-star hotel complex, complete with a swanky lounge and full service restaurant. Yet again Abraham’s objective was to provide fabulous service to the weary traveler.
The lesson contained here is timeless and it is not a call to join the hotel industry or the Sierra Club. Abraham represents the embodiment of kindness. He did not merely give his guests the minimal requirements for survival – tepid water, stale bread, and a pinch of salt – rather he gave them fabulous food and displayed tremendous hospitality. Each of us has inherited Abraham’s attribute of kindness, hence we have the capacity to give of ourselves in the same manner as Abraham. We can assist and help others not only with their vital necessities but rather we can go above and beyond the call of duty and help others in a truly limitless fashion.
From an article by Rabbi Simcha Levenberg
Miracles of Shabbat light
In Sarah’s tent, a special miracle proclaimed that the Divine Presence dwelled therein: the lamp she lit every Friday evening, in honor of the divine day of rest, miraculously kept burning all week, until the next Friday eve. When Sarah died (1676 BCE), the miracle of her Shabbat lamp ceased. But on the day of Sarah’s passing, Rebecca was born. And when Rebecca was brought to Sarah’s tent as the destined wife of Sarah’s son, Isaac, the miracle of the lamp returned. Once again, the light of Shabbat filled the tent of the matriarch of Israel and radiated its holiness to the entire week. (Bereishit Rabbah 60)
From an article by Rabbi Yanki Tauber
Mind Over Matter
The gift you don’t give
The act of giving allows the benefactor to feel important, valuable and productive — both as a person in general, and also in the context of a particular relationship. Giving is also the ability to transcend one’s own needs and care for another. And even on a selfish level, giving earns the giver respect and admiration. As nice as it is to be given gifts, receiving often has strings attached. The recipient may not be expected to reciprocate in kind but recompense in terms of gratitude and a feeling of indebtedness is certainly expected — and may well be the giver’s primary motive. Furthermore, a gift can sometimes be construed as a subtle attack on the beneficiary’s self-sufficiency. In Vayera, three angels visit Abraham while this elderly man was still recovering from circumcision and accepted his gifts of hospitality. As angels, they did not need his gifts. A lesson we can learn from them is to allow others to give gifts — even if it makes us a bit uncomfortable, even if we’d rather be on the giving end.
Adapted from an article by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg
Worldwide knowledge of G-d
When the inherent and pervasive presence of the Aleph (the “Master of the Universe”) is revealed and manifested, this will remove all the concealing obstacles of the galut (exile) which screen and cover its true reality and intent. There will be a revelation of Divinity within the world and in all mundane categories, to the point that “Everything that has been made will know that You have made it… and every besouled being will declare that G-d, the G-d of Israel, is King, and that His Kingship rules over all”.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Why Angels Won’t Multi-Task
When I was in the first grade, just beginning to study the book of Genesis, I was fascinated by the stories, the personalities and the drama. But nothing captured my imagination more than the angels. There was something so mysterious about them. Disguised as ordinary people, they would show up in the right place at the right time, and solve some problem with their supernatural powers.
And yet, I knew that however great the angels, they had a weakness. At the first mention of angels in the Torah, the commentators are quick to point out that the angels could not perform more than one action at a time. Why did three angels come to visit Abraham as he was sitting at the entrance of his tent, hoping to find people to invite? Because there were three items to be accomplished, and angels do not have the ability to multitask. As Rashi explains: “And behold, three men: One to bring the news [of Isaac’s birth] to Sarah, and one to overturn Sodom, and one to heal Abraham, for one angel does not perform two errands.” As a young child, I found this comforting. Maybe I couldn’t fly like an angel, but at least I could do two things at once, like run and shout at the same time.
Now, years later, I ask myself, why is it so important for Rashi to emphasize the angels’ weakness? Why is it so important for every child studying Genesis to know that angels cannot perform two things at once? Perhaps because it’s not a handicap. Perhaps it’s the secret to the angels’ power. Perhaps Rashi’s comment is a critique of the human condition.
The angel cannot do more than one thing at a time because the angel identifies with the task completely. The angel has no other dimension to his personality other than fulfilling G-d’s mission—no personal name, no personal agenda, no personal ego to get in the way. At that moment, he is nothing but the task. As such, he cannot perform two acts simultaneously, as it’s impossible to be, fully, in two places at once.
A person, on the other hand, even when performing the will of G-d. never loses his own ego. A person always maintains the sense that he has an independent identity, an identity which happens to be engaged in the mission. As such, he can never become one with the mission, and therefore, some aspect of his identity will always be able to engage in something else. Rashi understood that the child reading the story is no angel. Yet Rashi is teaching us how to be more like an angel. How to be fully engaged in what we are doing, to the point that we forget about everything else. How to help someone else, and, while doing so, lose our own ego. How to speak to our children, carefully look them in the eyes, and listen. Listen as if, at that moment, we have nothing else in our life. Listen as if we have no e-mails, no deadlines, no one to meet, no place to go, no other interests. He is teaching us to be present—like an angel.
Rabbi Menachem Feldman