Ch Sarah: Abram’s life

We can divide Abraham’s life into roughly three different stages:  First, when he lived in Ur Chasdim and rebelled against the idolatrous lifestyle.  Second, when he entered the land of Israel at God’s command (“Lech lecha”).  This was also the period during which he and Sarah gained adherents in Haran (their disciples later disappeared when Avraham and Sarah were no longer present to influence them).  And third, after Avraham and Sarah “planted an eshel in Beer Sheva” (this actually took place in parshat Vayera, but since all of parshat Chayei Sarah also took place during this period of Abraham’s life, it is appropriate to discuss it here).

The Midrash tells us that the eshel was either an orchard, or an inn.  Either way, the eshel provided an opportunity for wayfareres and journiers to stop and refresh themselves during their long business journeys.  Avraham’s habit was to explain to all of his guests that all they ate and drank was from Above, and therefore it was appropriate for them to bless God.  Sometimes, though, his guests failed to get the point, and refused to bless God.  Whereupon Abraham would tell them, “okay, then pay up” for the food and drink (which was not cheap since Avraham was in the desert).  IN most cases, the guests would then utter the blessing rather than have to pay for Avraham’s hospitality.  However, the question that is asked is, how does this help?  How does it help to coerce someone to make a blessing, when they really have no desire or intention or true belief in God?

In answer, there are three classes of people who respond to the kind of overture that Avraham put forth to his travelers.  Essentially, he pointing out the obvious to them:  “The food is not yours, say ‘thank you’ for it, otherwise you should pay.”

1) Most normal people will react by saying, “you know, you have a point, you are correct, I didn’t think of it but I should have – ‘thank you for your hospitality!”

2) Some people need a bit more of a rebuke – they need to be told about the seriousness of the situation and informed what will happen if they do not perform their expected role.  Such, for example, was the case of the spies in the desert; after they returned with a negative report of the land of Israel, causing the Jewish people to remain in the desert, Moshe rebuked the Jews strongly.  Immediately, they “straightened out,” and there was even a group (the ma’apilim) who decided to try to go to Israel on their own.  They failed, as Moshe told them they would, but this is an example of a group that required a rebuke in order to get back on the “straight path.”

3)  There is a third group, that require more than a rebuke in order to return to the “straight path.”  The spark of holiness is so buried within them that it takes a strong shock to awaken them to do tshuva and return to the ways of holiness.  An example is the story of R’ Elazar b’R’ Shimon (Talmud Ta’anit 20A) who met an extremely ugly man while walking on his way.  He said to him, “Empty person, how ugly this man is.”  Whereupon the man replied, “To and tell the Craftsman who made me how ugly is the vessel that he created.”  One must ask, why would a wise and spiritually elevated man such as R’ Elazar speak in this manner of another human being, and especially to his face?

The answer is that R’ Elazar was indeed a holy man, and he was responding not to the physical appearance of the man who passed his way, but to his “emptiness” and total lack of spirituality and mitzvoth.  R’ Elazar’s goal was to elicit from him the spark of holiness buried deep within, to shock him so much that his defenses would come down and he would recognize his own great holy potential.  And R’ Elazar succeeded; the man indeed “recognized” God when he answered, “Go tell the One Who made me.”  That is, he recognized his Creator, as R’ Elazar had intended.

This same is true in the case of Avraham; by demanding either a blessing or payment even when the person had no personal belief in God, Avraham was administering “shock treatment.”  It was an extreme way of getting the other person to recognize God, but it worked.

For a more lengthy and detailed explanation, go to

From LIkutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol.  15, pp 122-128

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