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.