The Chesed of Avraham by Rabbi Joel Grossman


In the beginning of this week’s parsha the Torah describes how Avraham Avinu was sitting dejectedly as Rashi says, because there were no guests and he wanted to perform the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim. Rav Moshe Feinstein in his Darash Moshe says that it is very difficult to understand, why Avraham was so upset, since there is no Mitzvah if there are no guests. Rav Moshe compares it to someone who is sad on Tuesday that today isn’t Shabbat! There is no point to it! Rav Moshe explains that the reason for Avraham’s sadness was because of his great love to do acts of kindness. It is itself a Mitzvah to desire to be involved in Mitzvot, in particular acts of kindness, in the same way that people desire certain foods or other physical pleasures. The fact that the food they want is not in front of them does not take away their hunger for it; the only way to end their hunger, is to find that food and partake of it.

This was the intensity of the hunger of Avraham to do acts of kindness; even though potential guests were not available, he still thirsted for the Mitzvah.

We are the descendants of Avraham Avinu and must learn from his wonderful desire to do Mitzvot, how we should behave. The Gemara says that one of the three character traits of a Jew is someone who is Gomel Chesed, who does acts of kindness. Many of us talk about the importance of giving charity, which of course is a very big Mitzvah, but the Gemara in Masechet Succah teaches us that in three ways, Gemilut Chessed is even a greater Mitzvah than giving charity. They are: 1) Tzedakah is only to the poor where Gemilut Chessed can be done for the rich too and 2) Tzedakah can only be done with your money while Gemilut Chessed can be done with you’re body, too, and 3) Tzedakah can only be done to the living while Gemilut Chessed can be done to the dead, as well.

There is a famous story told about a man who was brought up in a religious home but when he went off to college, decided to give up on religion and become totally secular. One day, many years later, when he was at work and very successful, he heard some children playing outside. Suddenly, he heard a loud crash and then one of the boys screaming. He went to the window to see what happened and heard the boy scream over and over, “What will father say!” After a while he went outside to try to do an act of kindness and calm down the boy. He asked him what happened and why he was crying so much. The boy related that he was very poor and his father had saved enough money in order to buy oil for the Chanukah menorah and he asked him to purchase the oil and bring it straight home for use tonight on the first night of Chanukah. Instead he stopped to play with his friends and the bottle of oil broke and that is why he stood there screaming, “What will my father say.” The businessman took out some money from his wallet and gave it to the boy and told him to buy new oil and bring it home and enjoy Chanukah. When the boy ran off, the sound of “what will my father say” kept resounding in the man’s head and he asked himself the same question, what will my Father say about the way I am living my life. He decided right then and there to come back to Judaism. We see from this story that when we help others, we help ourselves as well.

May we learn this message of the love of Gemilut Chassadim from Avraham Avinu and may we keep this story in mind as we constantly ask ourselves, “What will my father say,” and hopefully, we can live our lives in a way that we emulate our father Avraham, where we worry about the needs of others, not only ourselves, and make this world a better place for everyone to live.

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