I would like to say over a brilliant shtickle Torah from the present-day Tolner Rebbe of Yerushalayim, Rav Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg.
In the beginning of our parsha, the Malachim come to Avraham Avinu (who does not realize they are Angels). Avraham Avinu offers them to wash their feet, and rest up a bit. Rashi explains that the reason he asked them to wash their feet was because he thought that they were Arabs who bow down to the dust of their feet.
There were different forms of Avodah Zarah. Some people worshipped the sun. Other people worshipped the moon. There was, apparently, a particular sect that worshipped the dust of their feet. Avraham did not want these visitors to walk into his tent with their Avodah Zarah on their bodies, so he asked them to first wash their feet. Rashi here comments that Lot had no such reservations and offered these same guests, when they came to visit him, lodging first—and only afterwards the opportunity to wash their feet. This is the Rashi at the beginning of Parshas Vayera. [Bereshis 18:4]
However, there is a different Rashi later on in the parsha [Bereshis 19:2], when the Malachim enter Sodom. Rashi asks on the expression “Take lodging and wash your feet”: Is it customary to first take lodging and only later to wash up? A person does not go to sleep and then take a shower; he showers and then goes to bed! Rashi there answers that Lot was afraid that the people of Sodom would come and find his guests all washed up from their travels and would suspect that he had already been hosting them for several days. He preferred that they remain dusty to appear like they had just arrived and had not yet had time to wash up. In Sodom, they did not take kindly to people who offered hospitality to wayfarers. If they would see that Lot had strangers in his house with clean feet, the Sodomites might fine him for violating their “zoning rules”!
Thus, there is a contradiction between the two comments of Rashi. In the beginning of the Parsha, Rashi says that Lot offered lodging and then washing because he was not concerned about the Avodah Zarah of the dust of their feet. Rashi later on in the Parsha says that he did this to trick the Sodomites into thinking the guests just arrived. This is the first question the Tolner Rebbe asked.
The Tolner Rebbe’s second question is the following: Why does Rashi even mention Lot at the beginning of the parsha when explaining why Avraham said first wash and then seek lodging? That really has nothing to do with what Avraham told the Malachim. Let Rashi save his comments about Lot for the later chapter in Chumash that deals with Lot’s interaction with the Angels! What is the need to raise the issue now?
Third of all (this is an issue that many other Chumash commentaries also deal with) – why did Avraham Avinu say “take a little water and wash your feet” (me’at mayim). Is Avraham Avinu being stingy? Is he worried that he will need to schlep too much water? By food, he gave them each a tongue of a cow, which is huge. But when it comes to water, he only allows them to have a little bit. What is going on here?
These are the three questions that the Tolner Rebbe raises regarding the interaction(s) of Avraham (and Lot) with the Malachim.
The Tolner Rebbe answers beautifully. There is a popular maxim about how a host should treat his guests: Kab’deyhu, v’Chash’deyhu – Honor him, but be suspicious of him. When someone who is a perfect stranger comes to your house, you need to treat him with honor and respect. But at the same time, do not leave the silver unlocked. Treat your guest like a king, but count your silverware at the end of Shabbos because you really don’t know what type of person this is.
Actually, there is no such saying in Chazal of Kab’deyhu v’Chash’deyhu. The world says this, but Chazal have a variant expression (found in Maseches Derech Eretz): All people should be in your eyes as if they were robbers, but honor them like Rabban Gamliel (the Nasi of the Jewish people). This is a very difficult thing to do. You must suspect that a person is going to steal you blind, but at the same time treat him like he is the Prince of Israel.
Maseches Derech Eretz then tells a story: There was an incident with Rav Yehoshua. He had a guest who he fed and provided with everything the he needed. He then took him up to the roof. He told him “My guest room is in the attic.” Fine. Good night. Rabbi Yehoshua then (unbeknownst to his visitor) removed the ladder which served as the stairs between the attic and the main dwelling area.
In the middle of the night, this visitor went around collecting all the valuables he found in the upper story of the dwelling. He went to the place where the ladder was supposed to be. Lo and behold the ladder was not there. The guest falls to the ground and is left lying there until the next morning. The next morning, he complains to his host “You took away the ladder!” Meanwhile, the valuables are spread out all over the floor. Rabbi Yehoshua tells him “You thief! We know how to deal with your type!”
Rabbi Yehoshua commented: “Any person (who you don’t know) should be in your eyes as if he is a thief, and nevertheless you must honor him as if he were Rabban Gamliel.” So we learn in Maseches Derech Eretz. The succinct way in which the masses express this idea is “Kab’deyhu v’chash’deyhu.”
Similarly, in this parsha, Avraham Avinu is demonstrating how to properly be suspicious of your guest. In practical terms, how do you implement “Kab’deyhu v’chash’deyhu“? Do we need to ask for photo ID whenever someone shows up at our door? Should we ask all guests to leave us a credit card when they “check in” for our home hospitality “just in case we need to cover the incidental charges”? Is that how we are supposed to treat our guests? Or, when the guest is about to leave, do we ask to look through his luggage before he steps out of our house?
We obviously don’t do that, because that is insulting. When you suspect a person, you need to do so in such a subtle manner that he does not even begin to grasp that you are suspicious of him. This is why Avraham says to his guests “Please take a little bit of water.” If he would give each one a barrel of water like he gave each one a tongue, they would ask, “Why is he giving us so much water to wash? Does he think we are that dirty?” Avraham very delicately says, “Please take a little bit of water to wash yourselves” so that they do not have the slightest inclination that this has to do with Avodah Zarah.
Now we understand how subtle Avraham was with this comment. Lot was the disciple par excellence of Avraham Avinu regarding hachnosas orchim (to such an extent that later on in the parsha Lot is willing to give over his daughters to the Sodomite mob rather than to have them mistreat his guests). But even Lot did not recognize what Avraham Avinu was doing when he made these subtle comments to his guests. The reason Lot did not do this was because he did not realize he should do it. Lot learned everything from his uncle. Avraham Avinu gave them a little water, but Lot never sensed the etiquette of Avraham’s mode of expression.
That is why Rashi points out over here at the beginning of the Parsha that this was not the practice of Lot. Rashi is making the point that Lot did not offer a little water because he never grasped the subtlety that this is the way a host should treat his company.
Later on, Lot will in fact have yet another reason why they should wash their feet second rather than first. Rashi there tells us that second reason (because he didn’t want them to look like they had been there for a long time), which was also true. Both reasons are true.
This answers all three questions: There is no contradiction between the Rashis because both of Lot’s reasons are true. Lot really did not offer them to wash first, because he wanted to make them look like they just arrived, as Rashi says over there. Avraham only offered a little water in order to be subtle about his suspicions that they worshipped the dust on their feet. And the reason why Rashi also contrasts Avraham with Lot over here, is in order to point out that Avraham kept his suspicion of his guests so subtle that Lot did not even realize what was going on.
With this approach, the Tolner Rebbe says an incredible ‘chap’.
On the surface, this maxim that Rav Yehoshua says in Maseches Derech Eretz (that people should suspect every stranger of being a thief and yet honor them like Rabban Gamliel) means that the person should be honored as if he were Rabban Gamliel. However, the Tolner Rebbe says, there is also a hidden message here. Rav Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel had a history between them. In Maseches Rosh HaShannah [25a], Rav Yehoshua calculated a different day when Yom Kippur should be observed than did Rabban Gamliel. Rabban Gamliel, who was the Nasi, insisted that Rabbi Yehoshua accept the date that Rabban Gamliel calculated as Yom Kippur, and ordered Rabbi Yehoshua to appear before him on the date Rabbi Yehoshua thought was Yom Kippur, carrying his staff and his money bag.
The Gerer Rebbe asks a question on this incident: If Rabban Gamliel wanted Rabbi Yehoshua to admit that he was wrong, why didn’t Rabban Gamliel order him to appear before him and eat a sandwich on the day he thought was Yom Kippur? Taking a money bag and a staff is only a rabbinic prohibition of muktzeh, while breaking one’s fast would be a Biblical offense involving the kares punishment. The answer is that Rabban Gamliel did not want to do that to Rav Yehoshua. Rabban Gamliel had that sensitivity. He did not want to crush Rabbi Yehoshua by asking him to eat on Yom Kippur.
This explanation allows us to view Rabbi Yehoshua’s maxim “…and respect him like Rabban Gamliel” in a new light. He did not mean that a person should respect the suspected thief as if he were Rabban Gamliel. He meant a person should show respect to this person like Rabban Gamliel showed respect to me. Just like Rabban Gamliel did not make me eat on Yom Kippur even though he held I was wrong, but rather he had respect for my self-esteem and personal dignity – that is how you should treat everyone, even if you suspect their character and integrity. There is no mitzvah to crush people or to break them.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Vayeira is provided below:
- # 029 – Mila and the “Yellow” Baby
- # 071 – Last Will & Testament of R. Yehuda Hachasid.
- # 120 – After Milchigs: How Long a Wait?
- # 167 – The Bris Milah Seudah
- # 213 – Is lying ever Permitted?
- # 257 – Makom Kavuah and Other Davening Issues
- # 303 – Milk and Eggs in Halacha
- # 347 – Women and the Laws of Tznius
- # 391 – The Mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim
- # 435 – Declining a Kibud
- # 479 – Mitzvah of Inviting Guests
- # 523 – Walking by a Person Who Is Davening
- # 567 – Asking and Giving Mechila
- # 611 – Shalom Aleichem on Friday Night
- # 655 – The Bris Milah Seudah – Fleishigs or Milchig?
- # 699 – Zichrona L’vracha, Sh’lita and Neru – For Whom?
- # 743 – Chazoras Hashatz – More Important Than You Think
- #787 – Tefilah—Guaranteeing Success
- # 831 – Hagomel for Elective Surgery
- # 875 – Visiting the Sick – Are 2 Better Than 1? and Other Issues
- # 919 – Bas Mitzvah Celebrations – Kosher or Not?
- # 962 – Hard Cheese: Hot Dog After Pizza — Is There A Problem?
- #1006 – “I’m Mochel You” — Do You Really Have To Mean It?”
- #1050 – Saying No to a Rosh Yeshiva? Saying No to your host?
- #1093 – Tefilah B’Tzibbur: Must You Start Shmoneh Esrai Exactly With the Tzibbur?
- #1136 –I have a Toothache / Headache / Cold – Do I Still Have To Daven?
- #1179 – Walking Your Guest to the Door, To the Car – Do You Do That?
- #1223 – Davening at Netz or Davening with a Minyan: Which is Better?
- #1267 – Inviting Your Next Door Neighbor for Shabbos: Is that called Hachnosas Orchim?
- #1311 – I Had Eggplant Parmesan for Lunch Friday: Can I Have Fleishig for the Shabbos Seuda?
- #1355 – Doing Mitzvos First Time – Bar Mitzva & Tephillin; Women & Candles: Shehechiyanu?
- #1399 – Speaking Lashon Horah for the Sake of Shalom – Can it be Mutar?
- (2019) – Oops! I Started Shachris Shmoneh Esrai With Ki Shem Hashem – Now What?
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