Abraham Sees Sodom in Flames
Abraham Sees Sodom in FlamesJames Tissot

The Prophet Micah says:(7:20)’You shall give אמת: truth to Yaakov, chessed; loving kindness, to Avraham, which You swore to our forefathers from days of yore.’

Expounds Rashi: chessed to Avraham: The reward for the חסד: the loving kindness of Avraham.

The Sefer Habahir pays a singular tribute to Avraham Avinu’s חסד:’So said the Attribute of chesed: all the days that Avraham was on this earth, I was not required to perform my role, as Avrahan stood in my stead and kept my watch.’

We get a glimpse of Avraham’s חסד, in our Parasha - assisted by the commentary of Rashi:(18:1-8)’Now Hashem appeared to’ Avraham, ‘and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day was hot’ (Rashi:’To see whether there were any passerby whom he could bring into his house, though Hashem took the sun out of its sheath, so as not to trouble him with wayfarers’ - this being the third day from his circumcision…when the pain is at its peak -‘but since He saw that he was pained that no wayfarers were coming, He brought the angels to him in the form of men’.)

When Avraham saw the three ‘wayfarers’, ‘he ran towards them..and he prostrated himself to the ground’ and implored them:’do not pass on from beside your servant’, and, as the Torah relates, he fed them and attended to them himself, with a festive repast, ‘standing over them’ as they ate.

Rav Chaim miChernowitz, in his sefer ‘Sidduro Shel Shabbat’ offers a beautiful exposition of these events, illuminating the unique nature of Avraham Avinu’s way of חסד:’Just as Hashem - in whose ways we are commanded to follow - has given us the great חסד of the Shabbat, without any ‘awakening’ of ours, so too we are obligated to do חסד, seeking to do the utmost in our power, and more.

‘The demands this makes of us, we can learn from the actions of Rivkah - as described in Parashat Chayei Sarah - in the merit of which, she was found worthy to enter the House of Avraham.

‘Should you ask: Why did Rashi - there - trouble to relate to us, the attributes of , Rivkah? It is to teach us in full detail, the ways in which the attribute of חסד is greater than the attribute of רחמים: of pity.

‘The simple answer to this, is that one who acts out of the attribute of pity, is not acting solely out of his goodness, as he only acts when - and if - he sees a fellow man in dire need, this arouses his compassion, and he gives him succour, according to the level of pity the scene arouses in him.

‘Not so one who acts out of the attribute of חסד, because his actions stem from himself; he awakens each morning, and sets out to pursue the opportunity to do חסד.

‘Our Sages (Shabbat 104.) note that this is alluded to by the letters: ג ד, which allude to גמילות חסדים: doing חסד, by the shape of the letter ג its ‘leg’ stretching out, as it were, towards the ‘back’ of the ד, this letter alluding to דלים: the poor, as if chasing them, in their pursuit of doing חסד.

‘This, indeed, is the way of the true בעל חסד: his heart burns with the need, and the prayer, that he should merit that a needy person come before him, so that he could do חסד for him.

‘This was the attribute of Avraham Avinu, who despite the heat, and his physical pain, first sent his servant to see if there were any wayfarers; and, not satisfied with this, when his servant returned without success, went out himself to seek wayfarers - and look at his joy, and his alacrity, when he saw the three wayfarers, and the wondrous whole-hearted manner in which he personally attended to them.

‘Measure-for-measure, as a reward for those righteous בעלי חסד, who seek to help those in need, before even being called upon, Hashem rewards them with the great blessing:(Isaiah 65:24) ‘and before they call on Me, I shall answer them’ - before they even turn to me in supplication, their entreaties are answered from Above.’

The venerable Rav, in another of his sefarim, ‘Be’er Mayim Chaim’, sweetens our understanding of the lessons we learn from our episode, as to Avraham’s unparallelled attribute of חסד.

Expounds the Rav:’Immediately that Avraham saw the great measure of חסד of Hashem, who completely forebore any thoughts of His own honor, to engage in the great חסד of visiting Avraham, to comfort him in his pain - from the circumcision - Avraham, who always strove to go in the ways of Hashem, immediately, despite his pain and the great heat of the day, could not restrain himself from sitting at the entrance of his tent, praying that he be given the opportunity to do חסד to any wayfarers; and, we read of his great joy, when Hashem filled his need, and brought the wayfarers, Avraham could not restrain himself, and ran to them - completely without regard to his age and his honor - to plead that they accept his hospitality - all this, because he saw the way that Hashem acted, and strove to go in His ways, to do חסד.

‘’And he prostrated himself to the ground’: not to the wayfarers, as some parshanim expound, but to Hashem, for giving him the zechut to perform the Mitzvah, when, in the natural order of things, there could not have been any wayfarers, at such a time.

‘This is the meaning of his words to them:’This is why you came upon your servant’: me, that this is the reason that Hashem sent you to come by me, on this very day, so that I should be able to perform His mitzvah of חסד, through you.’

Rav Yehonatan Eybeshitz adds a beautiful insight, as to Hashem’s love of Avraham’s great yearning to do חסד, seen in Hashem bringing out the sun from its sheath, to ‘conceal’ from Avraham that the three wayfarers Hashem brought to his tent, to fulfill Avraham’s need to do חסד, בחום היום: ‘in the heat of the day’, were angels, and not human beings.

In the normal course of things, had Hashem not done so, Avraham would have realized that the wayfarers were angels - and not men, as they appeared - by reason of they not casting a shadow, since angels - unlike humans - do not cast shadows.

Therefore Hashem brought out the sun at its most direct, as at noon, because at that time, when it is directly overhead, humans, too, cast no shadows.

Thus Avraham could fulfill his need to do חסד, to ‘people’, who seemingly needed his חסד, and not to angels.

The hassidic master, the Shem miSsmuel, whilst making the same distinction between acting out of חסד, and acting out of רחמים: pity, draws a different conclusion than Rav Chaim miChernowitz.

He expounds:’I come here to explain the difference between the two, which superficially may appear to be the same.

‘The איש חסד has a great craving to do חסד, and when he does חסד, he fulfills his own need; this is why he constantly seeks to do חסד, and, should he not find those who need חסד, he is distressed, that he cannot satisfy the needs of his soul - as we find with Avraham Avinu, who, Hashem, to assuage the need of his soul to do חסד, brought the three wayfarers to him, so that he could fulfill the needs of his soul.

‘The way of pity, on the other hand, is very different: the person does not act to fulfill his own need, but solely the need of the person in distress; therefore, should no one needing his help come before him, he does not feel a lack in his soul, and therefore does not pro-actively seek to assist others.

‘Since the person acting in the attribute of רחמים: of pity, does not act to satisfy his own need, but only the needs of the other, this attribute is greater than one who acts out of his own need to do חסד.’

A parting thought: Our Sages, in the Zohar Hakadosh, expound the passuk (Breishit 2:4): אלו תולדות השמים והארץ בהבראם: ‘These are the generations of the heavens and the earth, when they were created’- don’t read as בהבראם, but באברהם: that through Avraham, the world exists.

To appreciate this wondrous saying, let us recall the saying of the Sefer Habahir - which we brought at the outset - as to the importance of Avraham Avinu’s acts of חסד, and let us combine this with the words of David Hamelech;( Ps’ 89:3)’For I said: Forever will it be built with חסד’ - as the Mesilat Yesharim says: Hashem created this world, and man, because of His ‘need’ to do חסד, this requiring there to be creations - man - for whom He could do חסד.

We are commanded to go in His ways, and, as the Aish Kadosh states: our role is to do an act of חסד each and every day, as this is why we descended to this world.

This obligates each of us to follow the injunction of the pophet Isaiah (51:2)’Look to Avraham your father’, and follow in his ways.

This is the reason that the Torah expounded in such great detail, Avraraham Avinu’s way of חסד, in our Parasha!

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.