In this week’s weekly Torah portion, we find the passage of our forefather Avraham when he was visited by three angels immediately following his circumcision. The Torah relates how Avraham (painfully) ran out to greet them, then brought them into his house, washed their feet and gave them a lavish meal to eat. The question many are bothered by, is why does the Torah feel the need to go into such great detail towards the way Avraham treated his guests? Nothing is extra in the Torah, and therefore, what’s the purpose of telling us all of these small little things that Avraham did? They were things which probably took thirty seconds and they happened 4,000 years ago! Why do they carry such significance that the Torah chose to write them, and how are they relevant to us today?
The answer, I believe is based on two different pieces of Talmud which deal with Chesed (kindness). On the one hand, the Talmud in tractate Sotah teaches the obligation on each individual to act with kindness from the verse of “acharei Hashem teileichoo”, or “after Hashem you shall go.” Obviously it can’t mean to literally go after Hashem, for Hashem isn’t physical and therefore cannot be physically followed. Rather, says the Talmud, the verse is teaching us to follow after the ways of Hashem. Just as He clothes the naked, so too should you cloth the naked, just as He is kind, so too you should be kind etc… On the other hand, the Talmud in tractate Shabbos explains that it the obligation for kindness comes from a different verse, that of “ze keili v’anvaihoo”, or “this is my God, and I shall glorify Him..” How does a person glorify Hashem? Says the Talmud, that emulating His ways is the highest form of glorification. Therefore, just as he is Kind, so too you shall be kind…
There’s a question which seemingly results from these two paragraphs in the Talmud. There’s a foundational idea about our Torah that there isn’t one extra word in our Torah, and therefore two different verses wouldn’t come to teach the same thing. If this is true, what’s the explanation of the two Talmudic passages? There are two different verses teaching us the obligation for chesed?!
The answer I think is as follows (it’s also found in the book “leket sichos mussar” by Rabbi Yitzchak Issac Sher of Blessed memory): Really, there are two different aspects inside the trait of Kindness. The first verse tells us the obligation to be kind and to walk in the ways of Hashem and our forefathers. The second verse, however, teaches us something different. It’s not referring the obligation to act in a kind manner; rather it relates a separate obligation to feel the kindness in our hearts. In other words, it’s an obligation to feel that through the acts of kindness that we do to one another, we are emulating Hashem. We have to feel that we are copying exactly His methods and course of action. In this way, like a son who copies his father, we get closer to Him.
I think this is the explanation to our first question. Why does the Torah go into such detail about the way Avraham treated his guests? Because the Torah obligates us not just to do chesed, but rather to also feel that the chesed is a direct emulation of Hashem’s chesed. And what type of Chesed is that? It’s a chesed to always focus on the little thing. Really, it’s true; the act of washing a visitor’s foot is such a small action which happened so long ago! Why do we need to know about it? Because that’s what chesed is. It’s not just to do the big things. In order to really feel the chesed, we have to care about the small things.
As we’ve said before, the word Torah comes from the root of hora’ah, which means “to guide”. It serves as a guidebook for us to derive the most out of this world. When the Torah talks in depth of the kindness of Avraham, it’s guiding us towards the essence of what chesed is. And chesed isn’t just saving a friend from drowning. Rather it’s finding someone who’s down and cheering them up. It’s saying I love you to a loved one even when you’re just doing it because you know it’ll make them happy. And above all, it’s showing that you care.