by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – October 27, 2015
In the beginning of the Torah section of VaYerah (Bereshit 18:2-6), we read: “And he [Abraham] lifted his eyes and saw, and behold three men were standing over him, and he perceived and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent and bowed toward the ground. And he said…’Let some water be brought and wash your feet and recline beneath the tree. I will fetch a morsel of bread that you may sustain yourselves, then go on’…And Abraham hastened to the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Hurry, three se’ahs of meal, fine flour, knead and make cakes,’ and Abraham ran to the cattle, took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the youth who hurried to prepare it.”
In commenting on the aforementioned in his Even Ha’Azel, R. Isser Zalman Meltzer notes the emphasis on the aspect of hurrying in this anecdote. Abraham sees three travelers, perceives that they may be in need of something to drink or eat, rushes to them, offers assistance, rushes to his wife and asks his wife to rush to make something for them, after which he rushes to prepare some meat. What’s the rush?
R. Meltzer suggests that the Torah is pointing out a message to all. When it comes to hospitality towards another or caring for another or tending to another’s needs, one must rush to do so. When another is in need of help, one should not let him wait, as is evident also in the anecdote told by our Sages regarding the Tanna Nachum Ish Gam Zu who once tarried in tending to a poor man’s needs, which led to the man’s demise (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 21a).
This is the message that the Torah is telling us, R. Meltzer suggests. Hurry to your friend. Hurry to your neighbor. Hurry to your fellow man. When another is in need of your assistance, do not waste time in rendering that assistance. Imagine if you were the one in need!
Another significant lesson may also be garnered from this incident and other descriptions of Abraham. Abraham was want to go amongst his fellow man and proclaim G-d’s being and role in the world, bringing to the fore and developing humanity’s recognition of G-d, hand in hand with his sincere show of caring and concern for his fellow man, as evident in the aforementioned incident. A step lower is the description of Noah (see Rashi and Ma’ayana Shel Torah on Bereshit 6:9). Noah, at first, showed no interest in his generation and did not go amongst his fellow man. Only later, when constructing the ark, did Noah become involved with the public at large, announcing for everyone to hear the forthcoming dire straits and their need to repent (see Rashi on Bereshit 6:14). Both Abraham and Noah are described as having walked with G-d, so to speak. Unlike Abraham who spent his life mingling and conversing with his fellow man and Noah who spent a large part of his life involved with his fellow citizens around him, there was someone before them who also is described as having walked with G-d but acted very differently – Chanokh (see Bereshit 5:24 and the commentary of Rashi and Ma’ayana Shel Torah ad locum). The great latter day Torah giant R. Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) is said to have described Chanokh as being a loner who distanced himself from his fellow man and did not attempt to impart his righteous ways on others or positively influence his fellow man. Consequently, he was taken by G-d before his time, for fear of being negatively influenced by others. Were he to attempt to reach out to his fellow man, on the other hand, this could have been avoided, as our Sages tell us (Mishna Avot 5:21), “Whoever influences the masses positively shall not bring about sin.” Since he did not work at influencing his fellow man positively, he was not protected from sin.
From the description of Abraham’s actions in the beginning of this Torah section, and the description of other righteous individuals prior to him, we, consequently, learn two very crucial lessons. Each one of us is encouraged to follow in Abraham’s footsteps. Abraham’s actions teach one to hurry to your fellow man when he is need, and Abraham’s actions teach one to get to know him, reach out and get to know your fellow man and try to influence him positively. To care for someone, one must not dawdle; one must hurry, and to ensure maximum life expectancy, one must get to know others, mix with others, and not hide from others, even if they are as sinful as the fellow citizens of Abraham, Noah and Chanokh. Abraham’s actions proclaim to each one of us to hurry to your fellow man and get to know him.