Vayera: Welcoming Guests

A Little Water

Lech Lecha ended with Abraham obeying God’s command to circumcise himself at age 99. At the beginning of this parsha, God appears to Abraham while he is convalescing after the painful procedure. During this Divine communication, Abraham sees three strangers approaching his tent and immediately jumps up to greet them. “Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree….” (Gen. 18:4). Abraham tells his wife Sarah to rush and make cakes for the guests, and he himself selects the choicest calf to slaughter for them. Abraham leaves a private conversation with God to make three complete strangers feel welcome! While he himself was recovering from recent surgery! What a powerful lesson in the importance of kindness. If Abraham went to such lengths to help those unknown to him, how much more should we be kind to people we do know!

And what about the “little water” that Abraham offered his guests? He served everything else with great abundance, so why did he send his son Yishmael to get just a little bit of water? The answer can be found in an anecdote about the great sage Rabbi Yisroel Salanter (1810-1883), known for his sterling character and abounding kindness. He was once traveling with a student and they stopped at a small synagogue, where they washed their hands before prayers. The student filled the basin with water to wash, and was surprised when his Rabbi used the smallest possible amount of water. When asked why, Rabbi Salanter explained that he didn’t want the elderly caretaker to have to make another water run. Abraham was eager to do anything he could to help his guests, even at the cost of his own physical comfort. However, he was sensitive enough to not ask someone else to make the same level of sacrifice.

Image: Abraham serving the angels by Rembrandt, 1646




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