Our Patriarch Abraham is famous for his chesed (lovingkindness.) The Sages ascribe this beautiful quality to him numerous times, and it’s implied in scripture as well. However there is only one place where Abraham’s chesed in described explicitly: when he provides an elaborate meal to three passing strangers. There’s only one problem. The three strangers are actually angels, and angels are supernatural beings who don’t eat! Why is the only specific example of Abraham’s lovingkindess a situation where his chesed isn’t needed at all?
Rav Tzaddok HaKohen (1823-1900) answers that this episode teaches us an important principle: we don’t have complete control over our actions, or the results of our actions. All we truly can control is what we WANT, and therefore what we want is what defines us. If we want to do a good deed but circumstances prevent it, we get a Divine reward just for having the thought, if we truly planned to carry it out. In the episode of Abraham providing “unnecessary” food to the angels, we learn that what’s truly important is Abraham’s intentionality – his strong desire to do good for others. As Rabbi Sholom Arush says, “We are what we yearn for.” So let’s yearn to be better people, and we’ll already be on our way to achieving it!
Image: “Scenes from the Story of Abraham” tapestry, British c. 1650