Rabbi Zack Blaustein
There Avraham sat, in front of his tent, desperately looking around to see if there was anyone to invite into his home.
For his own well-being, Hashem purposefully made the temperature unbearably hot so there wouldn’t be any guests for Avraham to serve. It was the third day since his circumcision and the 99-year-old man was in immense pain.
But nothing caused him more agony than not performing kindness. Seeing Avraham in this state of sadness, Hashem decided to visit Avraham Himself.
Wow! Can you imagine how a person would feel sitting in the presence of G-d? What an amazing spiritual experience! Think of the ways people today try to connect to their spiritual core: yoga, nature, spiritual retreats, meditating, to name a few. Can anything possibly rank higher than spending quality time with G-d? Especially for someone like Avraham, whose mission in life is to become close to G-d. Can he get closer than this?
We would assume that Avraham would take advantage of every moment in the presence of Hashem, right?
In the middle of this undoubtedly spiritual moment, Avraham notices three men walking in the distance. Immediately, Avraham asks Hashem to “hang on for a moment” while he tends to the needs of these strangers.
The Talmud infers the following Jewish value from this episode:
“Hospitality toward guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence, as when Abraham invited his guests it is written: “And he said: Hashem, if now I have found favor in Your eyes, please pass not from Your servant” (Genesis 18:3). Abraham requested that Hashem, the Divine Presence, wait for him while he tended to his guests appropriately. (Shabbos 127a)
Of course, kindness is important, but how in the world can one walk out on G-d Himself just to feed some strangers? How can the Talmud say that hospitality is greater than receiving the Divine Presence?
The answer to these questions will give us an awesome understanding of what spirituality really is and point us in the direction of how we, too, can attain it:
“Follow after Hashem your G-d….worship none but Him, and cling to Him.” (Deuteronomy 13:5)
The Talmud (Sotah 14a) and similarly the Sifrei (Devarim 49:1) expound on this verse.
How does one “follow after” G-d? Is it possible to actually “cling” to Him? We follow a tour guide on a trail and we can hold the hands of our loved ones. How can we do so for Hashem? How are we to understand this verse?
“Rather, the meaning is that one should follow the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He.” (Sotah 14a:3) “Just like the Holy One, blessed be He, is merciful, so too you should act mercifully; just like the Holy One, blessed be He, is called compassionate, so too you should act compassionately.…” (Sifrei -Devarim 49:1)
You want to reach higher levels of spirituality? You want to be connected to something bigger, beyond your physical self? You want to be close to G-d?
Emulate His ways, be like G-d, “follow in His footsteps.”
Yes, Avraham was basking in the presence of G-d Himself, no doubt feeling an unimaginable sense of closeness to his creator. But Avraham understood that as close as he physically was to Hashem at that moment, nothing can get him closer than performing mitzvoth (commandments) and acts of chesed (kindness). So when he saw the three men wandering in the hot desert, he seized upon the opportunity to elevate himself to even greater levels of spiritual heights. Greater than being with G-d is being like G-d.
To reach spiritual heights, live your life in sync with Hashem’s attributes. To truly know Hashem, study His deeds; familiarize yourself with His works. When we learn more, we grow more, and we become more.
(Rabbi Zack Blaustein is director of the Kentucky Institute for Torah Education.)