Hachnasat Orechim by Shmuel Ross


Our Parashah, Parashat VaYeira, presents two stories of Hachnasat Orechim, welcoming guests. However, these two events are extremely divergent from one another. The Parashah begins with the famous story of the three angels visiting Avraham Avinu. Before the arrival of the angels, the Torah records “VaYeira Eilav Hashem,” “and Hashem appeared to him” (BeReishit 18:1), from which Chazal learn that Hashem visited Avraham in his sick state, engaging in the Mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim. While at first glance Avraham’s disruption of his conversation with Hashem to tend to the angels may seem selfish, in reality Avraham’s actions were exactly the opposite. Hashem had sent the three messengers to deliver Avraham an important message which Avraham Avinu recognized immediately. Before greeting the angels whom Avraham perceived as people, Avraham Avinu asks Hashem for permission to end their meeting, saying “Al Na Ta’avor MeiAl Avdecha,” “Please, do not pass away from your servant” (18:3 with Rashi). Although he was three days removed from a Berit Milah and approaching 100 years old, Avraham Avinu rises and springs into action. He offers them water to rinse off their feet, a place for them to rest, and food for them to eat. The story of Avraham and the three angels is the epitome of Avraham’s character – his love and respect for Hashem and his kindness and unselfishness toward others. There is yet another story in these week’s Sidrah about Hachnasat Orechim that is nearly the opposite of Avraham’s. That is the story of Lot in Sedom. Lot, Avraham’s nephew of questionable character, greets two angels who arrive at the city. He brings them into his house, an act of Hachnasat Orechim which was similar to that of his uncle Avraham. To this point, Lot has done no wrong. But it was when the angry inhabitants of the city encircle his house asking Lot to hand over the men that Lot falters. He tries to make peace with the angry Sedomites by offering them his two daughters, allowing them to do whatever they want with them. Lot’s selfless act of welcoming the angels now seems like a distant memory in light of this egocentric event. Although Lot was originally trying to help others, and even though offering his daughters to the Sedomites was an attempt to save the angels, Lot misses the entire point of Hachnasat Orechim.

When one welcomes guests, he must take the initiative. Avraham Avinu does not merely sit and watch the angels enter his home, take food, and rest. Rather, he makes his kind offer even before they even reach his tent. In Sedom, as Lot is trying to save the angels, he doesn’t stand up for them by protecting them with his body. He tries to put others, namely his daughters, into an extremely difficult situation rather than bravely doing it himself. And that’s exactly where Lot stumbles.

Later on in the Sidrah, Avraham Avinu is rewarded for his actions in an indirect fashion, while Lot is punished for his actions in a very direct and licentious manner. As we know, the message which the angels communicate to Avraham is that he will have a son in exactly one year. Exactly a year later, Avraham’s wife Sarah gives birth to their first and only child together, Yitzchak. Lot, on the other hand, is forced to flee Sedom prior to its destruction. His wife turns into a pillar of salt because she disobeys Hashem’s command of not turning around to witness Sedom’s destruction.

We should look at the characters of Avraham and Lot as diametrically opposed personalities from whom we can learn a great deal. Hopefully, we will be able to emulate Avraham’s selfless ways and distance ourselves from Lot’s selfish ways.

Mourning the Loss of Sarah by Rabbi Yoni Mandelstam

Finding Meaning in Tefillah by Moshe Proctor