Parshat Vayeira

 You are traveling in the desert with two friends. It’s a boiling hot day. You see some tents in the distance, seemingly a Bedouin camp. Suddenly, running crazily towards you, a 99-year-old man appears. He dives at your feet, face in the sand, and implores, “Please my masters, if I have found favor in your eyes, do not pass by the tent of your humble slave. Stay a while. I will personally wash your feet and provide food. Sit in the shade of my tree – and afterwards you may go.”

Try to picture it for a minute: What would you think?

Most people would be concerned that this is some sort of psychopath who plans to chop them into little pieces and bury them under his floorboards. At the very least, there must be a catch, something in it for him. After all, nobody in this world does something for nothing. Does he?

I doubt that many would take Abraham up on his offer.

It says a great deal about the society in which we live, that when someone wants to do something for us, we are suspicious. Why would someone want to do something for me if there was no gain for him? And most of the time, we are correct. It’s a terrible shame, though, that we need to be so wary. After all, which should be the anomaly: a person who cares about others and gives to them selflessly, or a society that is suspicious of such a person?

Abraham was the person in Jewish history who, above all else, exemplified chesed – kindness. It was not strange for Abraham to run to potential guests and beg them to partake of his generosity. He loved humanity and, above all else, his mission in life was to make people happy. There are few deeper pleasures than of giving to others, and Abraham knew that well. Every one of us enjoys giving much more than taking. Giving expands and satisfies us. Taking leaves us ultimately feeling empty. That’s why parents usually get more pleasure from their children, than children do from their parents – even though the children ‘receive’ much more.

So why do we not give as much as we could?

We are misled into believing that by giving, we somehow lose out. If I give to someone else, there is surely less for me. It’s true, but only in the short term. In the long term, giving gives us back so much more than we gave. Abraham understood this and his life was about giving. We, as his spiritual heirs, have the same trait within us. Giving does make us happy. If we would keep reminding ourselves of this, we could find a lot more happiness.

Most people, having won the lottery, would be in a hurry to bank the check. Abraham was in a hurry to bank his check also. But while a lottery win is finite, the pleasure to which Abraham ran was eternal and unlimited.


Ken Alter