We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book.
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Parshas Vayeira #1
Studying the Menu
“And Avraham ran to the cattle, and he took a good and tender calf, and he gave it to the youth, and he hurried to prepare it” (Bereishis 18:7).
“A good and tender calf: these were three calves, in order to serve each one a tongue in mustard” (Rashi ibid.)
On the third day after Avraham Avinu’s bris milah, three wayfarers suddenly turned up outside his tent. They were angels, but to Avraham, they appeared to be ordinary men. He immediately invited them in and had a lavish feast served in their honor, described by the Torah in some detail. Avraham clearly prepared far more than necessary for just three people, in order to offer each of these unknown strangers a special delicacy: a tongue in mustard (Bereishis 18:1-8).
Chazal tell us that generosity was very much a part of Avraham’s legacy, passed on to those who follow in his footsteps: “One who has these three traits is among the students of Avraham Avinu… a good eye, and a humble spirit, a modest soul (Avos 5:19). Rabbeinu Yonah, one of the great Rishonim, explains that “a good eye” means generosity, citing our passuk as proof:“And [Avraham] took a good and tender calf.”
Why did Rabbeinu Yonah use this passuk to highlight Avraham’s exceptional generosity? His tent, open on all four sides to welcome travelers from all directions, would seem to be a far more striking illustration of his magnificent hospitality than the menu served on this one occasion.
We can answer this question with an insight from Rav Avraham Yaakov HaKohen Pam, of blessed memory, revered rosh yeshivah of Torah Vodaas. How is it that a saintly man like Avraham Avinu stocked unnecessary frills like mustard? The average home is likely to put considerable emphasis on good meals and tasty foods, keeping a variety of special ingredients and condiments on hand – but Avraham Avinu? Even today, we would not expect to find exotic, unessential items in the kitchen or dining room of the Gadol HaDor.
Rav Pam suggests that the mustard teaches an important lesson about our Forefather. Avraham was a great and pious man on an extremely high level. Part of his greatness was his concern for the needs of others. Avraham did not need the mustard for his own use, but he was sensitive enough to understand that others did. His home was open wide to guests of all kinds, who were interested in food and flavors. He kept mustard on hand, because he might one day host someone who wanted it. If Avraham, great as he was, still looked after other people’s need for “mustard,” we should do no less (Rabbi Yissocher Frand, “If Avraham Worries about Mustard, Then So Must We”).
Question for Discussion:
Avraham’s trademark traits of kindness and hospitality are integral to our heritage, and should serve us as a model of how to treat others, our own family included. At one time or another, everyone hosts guests or is hosted by others. As a guest, when is a time that you felt especially welcome and privileged to be hosted? What made this occasion so special?
“And [Avraham] lifted his eyes, and there were three men standing before him. And he saw, and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and bowed down to the ground” (Bereishis18:2).
“And Avraham hurried to the tent, to Sarah, and he said, ‘Hurry, knead three se’ah of fine flour and make cakes’” (ibid. 18:6).
“And Avraham ran to the cattle, and he took a good and tender calf, and he gave it to the youth, and he hurried to prepare it” (ibid.18:7).
A common theme in these pessukim is Avraham’s eager enthusiasm to fulfill a mitzvah. His alacrity was especially noteworthy considering the circumstances on the day his guests arrived.
Avraham was ill and weak, still recovering from his bris milah at the advanced age of ninety-nine. It was also an exceptionally hot day. Yet the minute he noticed three strangers in the distance, Avraham was on his feet, running to greet them and begging them to refresh themselves in his home. After they agreed to come, Avraham was still in a hurry – he rushed to ask his wife Sarah to quickly prepare fresh-baked bread, and then ran to select a choice animal, to be slaughtered and prepared at once.
Avraham was an extremely wealthy man, with a staff of three hundred and eighteen manservants ready to carry out his wishes at any moment. Why did he rush to take care of these guests – apparently no more than a band of passing travelers – in person? The Mefarshim tell us that it was because of Avraham’s overwhelming generosity and great love for the mitzvah of welcoming guests (Ramban and Rabbeinu Bechayye ibid.). The Torah recounts these details, even telling us that Avraham served them the very finest foods, to teach us that we should learn from him and follow his example (Radak ibid.)
A Ride Back
As a young yeshivah student in Eretz Yisrael in 1991, I heard an inspiring shiur from Rav Zev Leff, shlita, on erev Yom Kippur. The shiur was addressed to the entire yeshivah, four hundred talmidim, rebbeim, and kollel members. It lasted ninety minutes, and we all felt that it ended much too soon. I was so impressed that I was eager to get to know Rav Leff better. I was thrilled when a friend arranged for me and two other interested students from the yeshivah to spend Shabbos with the Leffs at their home on Moshav Matityahu. Our yeshivah was located in a remote spot between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with rather erratic transportation. It took us an hour and a half and three buses to get to Matityahu that Friday afternoon, but it was worth every minute; it was a magnificent Shabbos.
We had our Shabbos meals with Rav Leff and his family, and heard him give a number of shiurim in shul. On motzei Shabbos we packed our bags and thanked our hosts. To our surprise, Rav Leff said that he would drive us back to our yeshivah. We assumed that he had a meeting with our rosh yeshivah or some other business to attend to in the area, and were pleased with our lucky break. By car, the trip would take us only forty minutes instead of ninety.
Rav Leff drove us back and dropped us off. After we said our goodbyes, we watched as he made a U-turn – and headed home! We were not related to the Leffs, and the rav had never met us before this Shabbos. Despite this, he had volunteered an hour and a half out of a very busy schedule to personally drive three young Shabbos guests home, and he did it with a smile.
Question for Discussion:
Avraham Avinu had hurried to attend to his guests, setting aside considerations of age and personal dignity when faced with the opportunity to do a mitzvah. Many years later, my friends and I were privileged to witness Avraham’s legacy still in action. A mitzvah happily fulfilled is in a class of its own. When did you do a mitzvah with extra special energy and enthusiasm?