Avraham Avinu did not only perform kindness, he defined it, and he
eternalized it. This week, the Torah tells us how three angels disguised
as Arabs passed by Avraham's tent a mere three days after his bris
milah. Avraham ran to greet them and offered them food and shelter from
the blazing sun.
"Let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and recline beneath the
tree. I will fetch a morsel of bread that you may sustain yourselves, then
go on -- inasmuch as you have passed your servant's way" (Genesis 18:
4-5). Avraham brings butter and milk; he slaughters cattle; Sora
bakes. All for three total nomadic strangers. But his actions do not go
Each one of his services, every nuance of his actions, was repaid years
later in miraculous fashion. The Medrash Tanchuma tell us that the Almighty
repaid Avraham's children for every act that Avraham did towards the
nomadic wayfarers. "Because Sora and Avraham gave their guests bread, the
Jews were given bread from heaven (manna). Since he offered water, so too,
water from a rock was offered to the Jews in the desert! As Avraham washed
the travelers feet, so too, Hashem washes us from sin." And so on.
Even the manner in which the hospitality was expressed, merited
reward. The Medrash tells us: "in the merit of Avraham saying "a little
water be brought," Hashem declares, that He "will thrust these nations from
before you little by little; you will not be able to annihilate them
quickly, lest the beasts of the field increase against you" (Deuteronomy
7:22). And so for saying "a little," our enemies will disappear, little by
There are three powerful questions to ask. The first request, "let a
little water be brought and wash your feet," needs to be analyzed. Rashi
tells us that Avraham did not bring water himself, rather he asked, "let
water be brought." He asked his servant to bring water. Everything else
he did himself. Why did someone else get water?
Second, Rashi also explains that the water was not for drinking; for that
Avraham gave milk. Avraham wanted water to wash their feet, as the nomads
of those days worshipped the sand, and Avraham did not want that form of
idolatry brought into his home. But that, too, needs explanation. If the
water was meant to wash idolatry, Avraham, the greatest adversary of
idolatry, should have showered and hosed the potential spiritual
contaminants with a deluge of water. GEVALT! AVODAH ZARAH! IDOLS! Get them
out of my home! Yet Avraham only asks, "Have a little water brought." Why
just a bit? Why someone else? And third, why is he rewarded for the words
"a little bit of water?" Is getting only a little water meritorious?
Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant, known as Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the
founder of the mussar movement, was invited to for a meal at the home of a
wealthy individual. They began the meal with the traditional netilas
yadayim, the washing of the hands for bread. Rabbi Salanter, opened the
spigot, and filled the cup with the minimal amount of water required by
Jewish law. He proceeded to slowly pour the minimal required amount of
water on his hands and made the blessing. After he took his first bite of
bread, his host expressed his wonder. "Rabbi!" He exclaimed, "Is it not
written that he who washes with much water will be blessed with
prosperity! Surely, I am not lacking for water, and you could have washed
liberally. Why did you use such a meager amount for the ritual washing?"
Rabbi Salanter smiled. "Who schleps your water from the well?"
"Why, my maid!" Exclaimed the patron. "Surely I am not the water carrier!"
"Aha," declared Rabbi Lipkin. "You want me to wash liberally, depleting
the water supply in the barrel. And then your maidservant will have to
schlep more water! I should be a tzaddik on her back? No! I would
rather use the minimum amount of water, spare her the pain, and fulfill the
standard requirement of the halacha. As far as blessing for prosperity, I
guess that will come from somewhere else. But surely my blessings, nor any
religious stringency, will be carried for me on the back of your maid."
Perhaps Avraham did not want to deal with the idolatrous sand. He did not
to touch it or wash it. So he asked someone else. He asked an errand-boy.
But if that was the case he made sure to say "a little water." In no way
would Avraham, the great rival of idolatry ask for more water than
necessary. Because you can't place the burden of your stringencies on the
backs of others.
Dedicated by the Gluck family in memory of Milton Gluck