Vayeira: True kindness has empathy at its heart
Being kind is not good enough.
One of the greatest examples of altruism within the whole of Tanach is presented to us at the beginning of Parshat Vayeira. Avraham, who had just had his circumcision, was sitting in pain outside his tent in the heat of the day, looking for strangers. Eventually, he saw three strangers in the distance and he ran to them.
The Torah tells us how he brought them towards his tent. We are told (Bereishit 18:6),
“Vayemaher haohelah, el Sara,” – Avraham “rushed to the tent, to Sara,” and he said to her,
“Mahari!” – “Quick!” – We’ve got to get a meal going as soon as possible.
It is significant that the term ‘maher’ meaning quick is repeated. ‘Vayemaher’ – Avraham ‘rushed’ into the tent, and ‘mahari’ – ‘quick,’ we’ve got to get going, indicating that sense of urgency.
Avraham easily could have been relaxed at the time. After all, if not for his kindness, these three strangers would not even have known of his existence because it was he who ran after them. If not for that, they would still be walking along by themselves without anything to eat or drink. So he might well have thought: let them wait!
But that wasn’t his attitude. He and Sara went all out to guarantee that they would not have to wait one moment extra than was necessary in order to have something to eat and to drink.
There is a fascinating question which is asked with regard to the mitzvah of tzedakah, giving charity. Why don’t we make a bracha before this mitzvah? After all, it’s a mitzvah like all the other mitzvot of the Torah. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, every time before I gave to charity, I recited a bracha? Wouldn’t that show how integral our responsibility to our fellow human beings is as part of our responsibility to God?
Yet there is no bracha. Quite a number of answers are given to this question, one of which is given by Reb Simcha Bunim of P’shischa, an 18th Century Chassidic master. He said as follows: Let’s say a poor person is standing in front of me at my door begging for food. Before I recite the bracha, I will probably want to wash my hands. I will be reciting God’s name, so I will stand up; I will build up sufficient kavanah, to have the proper intention; I will recite the blessing, every word with meaning; in the meantime the poor fellow might collapse and die!
You can’t wait when it comes to charity. There is always the element of urgency.
That’s why there is no bracha. That’s something that Avraham and Sara appreciated when they rushed to help those who were hungry and thirsty. From them we learn that being kind is not good enough when it is on our own terms. True kindness has empathy at its heart.
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