It’s Not About Me by Rabbi Josh Kahn

(2004/5765) 

The apple does not fall far from the tree. The
relationship between Avraham and Lot is a good example
of this familiar saying. Lot certainly does not have the
same reputation as Avraham, but the kindness he
witnesses for years in the house of Avraham has its
impact. In fact, we find in last week’s Parsha that just as
Avraham immediately invites guests into his house the
moment he sees them, Lot, too, immediately takes in as
his guests the visitors he sees, even though the
punishment in Sedom for such a “crime” is death.
However, a close analysis of the storyline shows a
fundamental difference between the manner of Avraham’s
(and in our Parsha, Rivka’s) hospitality and that of Lot’s.
The Torah describes Lot sitting outside at night,
after having been elected the mayor of the town (according
to Chazal). He then sees visitors walking by and invites
them in. But his concern remains self-focused. He tells
them to first sleep, and only then to eat. Rashi points out
he does not want them to wash their feet because he
wants it to be noticeable that they have just arrived, which
will prevent him from getting in trouble for harboring
guests. His concern is not the comfort of his guests, but
rather his own wellbeing. He then tells them to leave early
in the morning. Although Lot’s hospitality was at great risk
to himself, the whole time his focus remained whether he
would get in trouble and not his guests’ comfort. In fact,
the Or Hachayim Hakadosh points out that Lot recognized
the angels as such because of the time he spent in
Avraham’s house, and therefore treated them with
kindness, implying that he was only hospitable to them
because of who they were.
On the other side of the coin, the Torah also
describes the actions of Avraham Avinu, the paradigm of
kindness. Three days after having had a Brit Milah,
Avraham sits outside his tent on an extremely hot day.
Why does he choose to sit in the brutal heat instead of his
air conditioned tent? It is because he is focused on
helping others, not himself. Upon seeing three men in the
distance, Avraham runs to greet them, so that he may
perform an act of kindness. He then bows down to them

and calls them “Adonim,” “masters,” treating his guests as
royalty. The Ramban points out Avraham’s sensitivity to the fact
that these men were traveling and might not want to be delayed.
Avraham therefore tells them to wash their legs with cold water
to energize them, and he tells the guests they can leave
whenever they wish. The kindness embodied by Avraham
shows sensitivity to the needs of the recipient of the kindness.
The following story illustrates what it means to be
sensitive to the needs of the recipient. Before Pesach a woman
came to the Beit Halevi with a basic question. She wanted to
know if she could use milk for her Arba Kossot. The Beit Halevi,
not wanting to embarrass her about the simplicity of the
question, asked if she minded waiting while he looked for an
answer. He proceeded to open several Seforim and look around
until about five minutes later he returned with a bottle of wine
and a large piece of meat. Afterwards, a family member asked
the Beit Halevi, “I understand why you gave her wine, but what
about the meat?” The Beit Halevi gave a remarkable answer.
He explained that this woman might not have known she could
not use milk for the Arba Kossot, but everyone knows it is
forbidden to have milk and meat at the same meal. If this
woman was considering using milk for her Arba Kossot, she
must not have been able to afford any meat for the meal, and he
therefore gave her meat for Pesach. The Beit Halevi could have
given her a bottle of wine and told her she should use that
instead of milk. He would have still felt generous for not sending
her away empty handed, but instead he thought about what else
she might be missing.
This is the message of Avraham Avinu. With this in
mind It comes as no surprise that in this week’s Parsha,
Avraham looks for a wife for Yitzchak who will also embody this
type of kindness. Rivka, sensitive to the camels’ needs, offers
the water to Eliezer’s camels and without even waiting for Eliezer
to ask. Not only does Rivka offer water to the camels, but she
insists on refilling until the camels can not drink anymore. Even
more amazingly, during this whole process, Rivka runs back and
forth so as not to make them wait, even though she is doing
them a favor.
Avraham and Rivka provide a great example for us to try
to emulate. After all, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

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