Parshas Vayeira: Three Ingredients Of Kindness, Three Measurements of Greatness

By Rabbi Yosef Tropper

Posted on 10/21/18

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1) Hachnasas Orchim Greater Than Talking to Shechina

Avraham Aveinu was speaking with the Shechina, and, all of a sudden, he saw his three guests coming his way, which rishonim debate whether he knew that they were angels or he thought that they were regular Arabs.  But, either way, the pasuk (18:2) tells us, “Vayar Vayaretz l’krasam.”  He saw them and he ran to go greet them. The gemara in Shabbos says, “Gedolah hachnasas orchim.”  Hachnasas orchim is so great, even more, “yoseir m’kabbalas pnei haShechina,” than talking with the Shechinah. Avraham said to Hashem: I have guests to go greet.  Please wait for me while I go do that mitzvah.

How Do We Know Not Just Equal?

Rif asks a famous kasha in Ein Yaakov that how do you know that it’s greater than kabballas pnei haShechinah. Maybe they were both equal, and therefore Avraham was doing one mitzvah, and now he went to go do another one. Rif has a whole explanation there.

Avraham Left

Says the Gra that if you look at the pasuk the answer is found there: If Avraham thought that it was equal then he obviously would not have run away from Hashem. You can’t run backwards, and when you greet someone you greet them face to face, and, so therefore, when the pasuk says, “Vayar.”  He saw them.  “Vayaratz l’krasam.”  He ran to greet them, that means face to face which means that he turned his back on the Shechinah, and, so, obviously, the only way that Avraham would have known to do that is if, in fact, hachnasas orchim is greater than kabballas pnei Shechinah.


What’s the p’shat in this idea in general?  I think that we could use this Gra to explain it. Rav Dessler explains that when you’re being mekabeil pnei haShechinah you’re learning how to act as a proper person, how to be refined, how to work on your middos. However, when you’re being machnis orach, you’re putting your knowledge into action. The Rebono Shel Olam, wants us to connect with Him and understand Him and know Him, but he also wants us to bring out our knowledge into actions!

The gemara and Chazal tell us in pirkei Avos, “lo hamedrash hu haikur, elah hamaaseh”. The main thing is that Hashem wants us to act.  And, a person that learns al menas she’lo likayeim, it’s worthless.  A person has to learn al menas le’kayeim, on condition that he’ll fulfill what he learns. This includes grabbing the opportunity to fulfill gemilus chassadim by inviting in guests. Avraham’s whole Torah that he learned from Hashem is that Hashem is a ba’al chesed. You want me to bestow chesed upon others, and that’s why Avraham was looking to do chesed for these malachim, or people traveling.

Showing Care

We see that it’s very important, like the Gra says, that the way to do the chesed is to show them that you care, to interact face to face. When we stand in front of someone face to face, we are showing that we are one human being, and we are tending to their human needs, and this shows a tremendous amount of respect.  Chazal tell us also that it is greater one who shows the whites of his teeth, which means to smile at someone, than one who gives his friend milk.  So, you might think that if someone gives you milk it’s very nourishing, it builds your body up.  That’s true; it does.  But, a smile could do even more.  Smiles are powerful.  One smile gives a message to someone that they’re great, they’re worthwhile.  That smile is phenomenal and encouraging.  How many great performers were standing on stage with stage fright, and looking into the audience and saw their mother, their father, their mentor, someone that was special in their life smile at them, and through that one smile it carried their entire performance.  

Give Respect

When we interact with other people we should remember how Avraham interacted with others.  “Vayar.”  He would see their needs.  “Vayaratz.”  He would run to go show them that they are important.  “Likrasam.”  Face to face, to show them the chashivus of a human being, what a tzelem Elokim is and how much respect they deserve and how much we believe in each person that we interact with and how great they are. This encourages people to greatness.

2) Avraham’s Test

Avraham got his guests to come inside. Avraham wanted to feed them. “V’el habakar ratz Avraham, vayikach ben bakar rach v’tov.” (Bereishis 18:7) He ran to go get the cows and the gemara in Bava Metzia says, “She’he’echilam shalosh leshonos b’chardal,” which translates literally as he fed them three tongues in mustard.  What does that mean?

Gra has a very beautiful p’shat.  The Gra says like this: that they were told, “v’hishanu tachas ha’eitz.” This was a very famous tree that the Zohar tells us it would detect whether these people were kasher or not. There are three middos in a person that define who you are.  And, this will tell you if you’re kasher of not.  The first one is that you love poor people because you have respect for even the poor. The second one is that you are satisfied with even the small that you have. The third thing is that you are connected to the d’var Hashem and you care about what Hashem has to say.

Chardal Hiints

These three leshanos of chardal, says the Vilna Gaon they hinted in the word chardal.  If you spell the word chardal three times and you change around the letters you get these things.  

  1. The first trait is “bachar dal”.  This person chooses poor people, and like Rabbeinu Tam writes in Sefer Hayashar in his list of things to do if you want to be a great person, one of them is to learn Chovos HaLevavos by Rabbeinu Bachye Ibn Pekude every single day, but another is that you should hang out with people that are b’tza’ar and people that are poor because they know Hashem like the gemara in Nedarim says, he doesn’t say this, but this is the way I understand it, that “hizaheir m’bnei aniim ki meihem teitzei Torah”.  

The people that are poor, those are the ones that produce Torah.  If you look at our gedolim, so many of them grew up in abject poverty and that is what created their greatness, who they are.  Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, so many great people.  Specifically, in that poverty they have nothing else, like the Ran says, except for Torah, and they immerse themselves in it, and Torah is a emersive study which if you let it inside you it takes over your life and enhances it.  So, the first thing is “bachar dal”  you choose the poor people to hang with them, to learn from them, and to respect them. 

b) The second thing is “chadal rav”.  You stop seeking large amounts.  You’re happy with what you have.  You’re mistapeik b’muat. 

c) The third is “charad leiv”.  Your heart is fearful of G-d. 

That’s the p’shat, says the Gra that this is the three leshonos of chardal he was trying to test them to see do they have these three traits.

Our Own Lives

When we look at our own lives, we should test ourselves and work on these things.  Number one, to love poor people, people that are downtrodden.  Those are the people that teach us how to be close to Hashem.  And, those are the people that humble our own hearts.  Number two, to be mistapeik b’mu’at, that we are satisfied with what we have.  If a person has a hundred he always wants two hundred, and we go through life always chasing, he’ll never achieve ever because even if he achieves the ten million, the hundred million, there’s always another hundred million that he wants, etc.  But, if we recognize that whatever I have, this is enough.

It says, “Eizeh hu ashir hasameach b’chelko, says the Vilna Gaon’s talmid muvhak, Rav Chaim Vuluzhin, Ruach Chaim, that what does it mean sameach b’chelko? That you recognize that what I have is only a cheilek of what I desire.  I know that I covet more.  I know that I really want more, but that’s it. I’m mesameiach b’chelki.  I recognize this is my small cheilek, whatever it is in my opinion.  I don’t care.  I accept it.  And, that’s where the simcha comes from.  And, the last thing is that his heart is fearful of Hashem.  He thinks about what does Hashem want from me.  How do I live my life focused on Hashem.  That’s obviously the ultimate “b’chol dirachecha da’eihu”, to know Hashem, and to think about Hashem in everything that we do, and to make that our every action is a manifestation of kavod Shamayim and Hashem’s presence in this world.

3) Sweeten Our Negative Nature

Gra doesn’t explain why this is specifically in the middah of chardal. The Midrash says a very brilliant thing that a person who dies and says: Hashem I couldn’t learn, I couldn’t do anything, so Hashem will say to him: What about the chardal that you sweetened?  What about all the efforts that you put in that you took this bitter, bitter seed and you made it sweet in order to be able to eat it.  You were capable of doing things.  So, there’s two things that the smart actions that we do, the creative things that we do. 

I know of someone that one time got in trouble by the Rosh Yeshiva, and the Rosh Yeshiva called him in, and said to him: He said: You have a choice: You could either get expelled out of the yeshiva which you deserve for what you did.  This person had done something horrible.  Or, you could tell me that you recognize how much kochos the Rebono Shel Olam gave me, look how talented I was, I was able to pull off this terrible thing; I’m going to use my kochos for Hashem to be mekadeish Sheim Shamayim.  And, this person took a very hard look at himself, and said sincerely that that’s what I’m going to do, and it had a big impact on him, and he did amazing things with his life there forward because it’s a recognition that Hashem gave us power, and if you use it for bad things we could be like Bilam, we could curse people.  If we use it for good things we could give blessings, and if we use it for holy things, it’s amazing what people could accomplish. 

The Midrash says that “me’od” is the same letters as “adam.” Why? Rav Hutner explains: A man has extreme capabilities. A man has unlimited capabilities, and if he uses them for bad things, G-d forbid, he could do horrible things; if he uses them for good things, he could be a powerful ambassador of Hashem that brings out kavod Shamayim. That’s chardal.  Chardal is number one that it takes, Hashem takes your own actions and says: Look, you’re talented.  You know how to make chardal, you know how to sweeten that, so you could certainly learn and do other capable things.  The second, is exactly this part that it gets sweetened.  That it’s so bitter that a person needs to work, and then that makes it sweet.  So too, Torah, there’s kashas, there’s difficulties, there’s challenges: emotional, physical spiritual, etc., but we make our lives sweet.  We find the Torah.  We find the meaning, and that is what pulls us through.

4) Acronym of Eishel

A famous vort that many people know which is actually attributed towards the Gra. “Vayitah eishel b’Be’er Sheva,” (21:33) that Avraham planted an Eishel in Be’er Sheva which Rashi says is an orchard, and Midrash Tehillim says that Eishel is achilah, shetiyah, livaya.  When a guest came he would give them food, drink and escort them out.  We know that it’s very important to escort a guest because when someone comes to your house and you feed them that’s greet, and you give them drinks it’s wonderful, but if you just let them walk out that doesn’t show you care about them.  If you walk them out, you say: I’m so sorry to have you leave; I wish you would come back, that’s levaya.

Missing Levaya

ra says, and there’s a famous story that there was a rich man who was a big ba’al tzedakkah and he used to take care of many, many aniim, but then his house burnt down.  So, they asked the Gra what happened?  So, the Gra said that this was a punishment that he only did the first two things.  He only gave achilah and sh’tiya, but he never did levaya.  He never walked them out whatever the reason was, and, therefore, if you only do achila and shetiya, you’re left with eish.  You don’t have eishel.  You have eish, and that’s why he got burnt.  Obviously, this man was on a madreigah that the Rebono Shel Olam wanted him to correct himself in this world, and I would imagine that after hearing something like that from the Gra, he would think about his ways, and take the mussar and change his ways.  And, not only provide achilah and shetiya, but, of course, make sure to give levaya as well.

5) Showing Shlaimus By Fighting Nature

We have at the end of the parsha the Akeidas Yitzchak, and the Gra points out that this was the time that Avraham reached a madreigah that Hashem said to him, “Atah yadatah ki yarei Elokim atah.” (22:12)  Now, I know that you fear G-d. The Gra is bothered why is this apparent now. Only “atah yadati,” now Hashem says that I know that you’re yarei Shamayim.  So, the Gra explains that a person’s middos are only really manifest when he possesses something and it’s opposite as well.  Meaning, when a person has both extremities that shows that he’s an ish shaleim because if a person is just always very, very nice, then that middah can be, first of all, taken advantage of, but that just means that that’s his nature.  If a person is always very, very strict, then that’s his nature.  But, if a person could be sometimes nice and sometimes strict, when if comes to serving Hashem, then he has shown himself that there are tiems to be strict and there are times to be lenient.

Avraham’s True Nature Revealed

In this nissayon, Avraham had to show himself to be willing to even sacrifice his own son, and, therefore, he showed that all of his behavior was not just motivated because, “Oh Avraham was just a nice person naturally.”  Because he worked on his middos, and when it was time to be a baal chesed and kind, he did that, and when it was time to be achzari to a certain degree, to be brazen because Hashem commanded him to, he was ready tofulfill Hashem’s will.

Akeidas Yitzchak Shows

Rav Chaim Kanievsky brings down a very interesting Kallah Rabbasi that basically says this exact idea of the Gra because it says there that anyone that’s a rachaman, so we know that anyone that’s merciful, we know that he’s a descendent of Avraham Aveinu, but then the Kalllah Rabbasi, perek 10 asks: But, Avraham didn’t have rachmanus on his own son!  What about Yitzchak?  And, it says: No, that exactly proves that he was a rachman because it was only that he loved Hashem so much that he was willing to put aside his own rachamim that he lived through and that he manifested throughout the entire Torah and do ratzon Hashem which, at that time, of his original nevuah  sounded to him like he was supposed to offer up his son as a korban, that showed where he was really at and who he really was that he put ratzon Hashem first and foremost.  It wasn’t just a personality.  It was putting Hashem’s will as the primary focus of his life.

May we be zocheh to take all these lessons of kindness and of humility and of satisfaction with our lot and of doing ratzon Hashem and working on our middos and changing ourselves be in line with what the Rebonon Shel Olam wants b’shleimus.


Rabbi Yosef Tropper is a rav and psychotherapist. Learn more and subscribe at ParshaThemes.com