Parsha Vayeira - Acts of K Indness

By Rabbi Mordechai Shifman

“And he saw them and he ran toward them...” (18:2)

Parshas Vayeira showcases Avraham’s attribute of chesed. The Torah gives a detailed account of the manner in which he fulfills the mitzva of "Hachnasas Orchim" - inviting guests into one’s home. What must be understood is the exposure given by the Torah to Lot’s fulfillment of the mitzva of Hachnasas Orchim. If one contrasts the two stories, Lot appears to be more accommodating to his guests than Avraham is to his. Avraham awaits his guests in the confines of his home and Lot awaits at the gate of the city. Avraham offers a meal while Lot prepares a feast. Avraham offers them to rest in the shade of his tree while Lot offers them lodging for the night. Avraham welcomes his guests while still experiencing the pain from his circumcision, while Lot risks his life in order to welcome his guests, for in Sodom offering lodging to non-citizens is a capital offense. If the intention of this parsha is to showcase the chesed of Avraham, why does the Torah depict Lot’s chesed in a manner which seems to overshadow that of Avraham?

When we perform a chesed, we must minimize the perception of our role as the benefactor. This allows the recipient to accept the kindness without feeling completely beholden. We should not accentuate the imposition which the guest is causing us, for the less the guest feels we are doing specifically for him, the more comfortable he will be. We often perform chesed because we find it personally fulfilling to be benefactors. The more we emphasize our role in the act, the greater our own satisfaction. This type of chesed is self-serving; it neglects the feelings of the recipient.

It is these two types of chesed which the Torah is contrasting. Avraham performs the chesed which minimizes any imposition that the guests may be causing him, offering only that which already exists, such as shade, bread, etc.; only once they become comfortable with the invitation, does he upgrade the menu. Consequently, the recipients feel totally comfortable accepting Avraham’s offer. On the other end of the spectrum, we see from the story line that Lot’s form of chesed is self-serving. When he first offers his guests lodging, they react in a manner which would appear to be rude. They say, “We would rather sleep in the street.” The only possible explanation for their response is that the manner in which Lot offers them his assistance emphasizes his magnanimity. This elicits a response that reflects their level of discomfort. Lot prepares a feast in which he provides his best finery and his fanciest silverware, for this gives him satisfaction. This also explains how it is possible for Lot to be willing to offer his daughters’ lives in exchange for his guests’ protection. For someone performing a true act of kindness such behavior would be inconceivable. However, Lot does this because his hospitality reflects his own magnanimity. This is what gives him satisfaction. The verse supports this with a statement of Lot’s: - “Do not harm my guests for they are under my protection.” Clearly, Lot is only concerned with how his guests’ wellbeing reflects upon him.

The Torah records the chesed of Lot, for this highlights the chesed of Avraham. The most important factor in performing acts of kindness is minimizing the discomfort of the recipient. Self-fulfillment should not be the impetus for the performance of a chesed.

Parsha Vayeira on Youtube


True meaning of Chessed / kindness by Rabbi Mordechai Shifman