By: Moshe Schonbrun
I can’t stand when I’m put on hold. Often, a random call coming in can interrupt and completely derail a conversation. Disregarding the reality that it is probably a telemarketer of sorts, this is something that would never fly during an in-person conversation. “Stop immediately and wait here for me while I check to see if I have something else I want to be doing instead of talking to you” probably would not be considered socially acceptable. Yet this is exactly what Avraham does to Hashem, effectively putting Him on hold to check in on some random travelers.
The Torah’s imagery is jarring and reveals inner depths of understanding into Judaism’s vision of kindness. The Gemara in Shabbos (127a) teaches that we learn from this that “Inviting guests into one’s home is greater than receiving the Divine Presence”. Why did Avraham leave Hashem? The Gemara is teaching us a profound idea. As Rabbi Sacks eloquently writes, “Avraham knew the deep truth that to live the life of faith is to see the trace of Hashem in the face of the stranger. It is easy to feel the Divine Presence when Hashem appears as Hashem. What is difficult is to sense the Divine Presence when it comes disguised as three anonymous passersby. That was Avraham’s greatness. He knew that serving Hashem and offering hospitality to strangers were not two things but one.”
“Be kind” is not just a straightforward tagline calling for increased kindness, but a clarion call to infuse Godliness into our everyday actions. The Torah’s understanding of kindness is that it is greater than an uplifting Hisbodedus with Hashem or an intense Shemona Esrei- because being kind is not an extra bonus of a nice thing to do.
Kindness is at the very essence of what spirituality is. This being the case, Avraham attempts to decipher and configure the ultimate way to do kindness. Realizing that kindness is not a mere physical transaction, he puts in all the effort he can for his guests to feel valued and dignified. Avraham serves his guests one entire tongue each, using an extravagant three whole calves. Why then did he select to choose tongue? Why not select three marbled surprise steaks from the lip above the rib eye? The Alter of Slabodka explains that Avraham was going for more than a culinary delight; he wanted them to do the math & realize that he had invested an entire cow for each one of them.
Rav Yerucham Levovitz, the legendary luminary and Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva, compares the way Avraham would greet a guest to how a salesperson enthuses when they encounter a potential lead that can generate an incredible deal. When we do an act of kindness, it should be with joy and delight, like Avraham, who danced in gratitude for the privilege of having guests in his home.
If kindness to a stranger involves such incredible thoughtfulness and spirituality, how much more powerful should our approach to our spouses, children, parents, friends, and coworkers be? In the repeated interactions of daily living, a mindset of “Be Kind” can create a space for the people around us to feel cherished, empowered, and uplifted.
(On this note, our attempts at kindness should never come at the expense and burden of those around us. In the sefer Shemen Hatov, Rabbi Dov Weinberger points out that though Avraham prepares a tremendous amount of food for the 3 travelers, except he only offers them “a bit of water”. Why is Avraham suddenly stingy with water, when he was so expansive with meat and bread? The answer is because someone else was bringing it. For the items he was preparing himself, he spared no effort. However, when someone else was doing the work, Avraham refused to burden them. Why should the comfort of the guests come at the expense of the water carrier!?)
For myself, the first step I am trying to take toward cultivating a “Be Kind” mindset in my daily interactions is to entirely focus solely on the person I am talking to. As my mentor and friend Rav Jack Cohen of Aventura once taught me, “The greatest gift one can give another person is in the feeling that at that moment, nothing else exists but them, and there is no place that you’d rather be.” The buzzing phone, the upcoming meeting, and the seemingly endless pending tasks can wait- the Divine spark of the moment and within the person currently here is primed to be ignited!
The correcting of the global world began with the pure chesed of Avraham, and each of us too, have our own individual world that needs refining through kindness! The Nesivos Shalom teaches that anyone who wants to reach the highest of heights needs to take the first steps with outpourings of love to our fellow Jews. That, in turn, can ultimately get us to our destination of love of Torah & Hashem.
A deeply valued content contributor for Meaningful Minute, Moshe is a husband, father, and espresso enthusiast. He is Executive Director at Avenues Recovery of Maryland, a residential addiction treatment center, and co-founder of The 13th Gate, an innovative platform for contemporary spiritual engagement in Silver Spring, MD. A talmid of Rabbi Meir Stern and Rabbi Asher Arielli, Moshe previously served as Rabbi at the University of Arizona in Tucson and the University of Maryland in College Park. He is the artist behind @farbreng_ink and the Chavrusa Podcast.