Vayeira 5778


שכרותו של לוט

As Drunk As Lot

אולי יש חמשים צדיקים בתוך העיר (בראשית יח:כד)

What if there should be fifty righteous people in the midst of the city? (Bereishis 18:24)

Parshas Vayera contains the first mention of Avraham Avinu’s Middah of Chesed. One might think that Chesed can be performed only towards an individual who is deserving of it. Avraham’s example, however, teaches otherwise. He pleaded with Hashem to save the city of Sodom, even though the people were far short of being worthy.
Rav Nissin Alpert, a primary student of Rav Moshe Feinstein, eulogized his Rebbe and spoke of Rav Moshe’s legendary Chesed. He related that Rav Moshe was of the opinion that the Pasuk ועשית עמדי חסד ואמת (בראשית מז:כט) , “Deal with me kindly and truthfully” (Bereishis 47:29), demonstrates that Chesed precedes Emes. A person should perform Chesed without first verifying how worthy and truthful the individual is. If he does not do this, by the time all the deliberations and inquiries are concluded, there would never be sufficient time for the Chesed. Therefore, when confronted with a request for a Haskama, letter of approbation, on a sefer, or a Hamlatza, letter of recommendation, he always obliged.
Several hundred years ago, Reb Abl’i Fasvaller, the great Rav of Vilna (best known for his ruling brought in Sha’ar Hatzion 582:4), was famous for his compassionate heart and his inability to turn anyone away. A poor man once approached him and detailed his many misfortunes. In addition to being so poor that he couldn’t support his family, he also had two daughters of marriageable age, and no means to marry them off. He pleaded with the Rav for a letter of recommendation addressing the wealthy Jews of Vilna to assist him with the Mitzvah of Hachnosas Kallah. Of course Rav Abl’I complied and quickly wrote him the letter.
A few weeks passed, and this same poor man was found in a drunken state, rolling in the streets of Vilna. His prized letter had fallen out of his pocket and was lying near him on the ground. Some people found him and took the letter to Rab Abl’I with their obvious complaint. Why does the Rav write recommendations for people like this? A lowly drunkard surely isn’t deserving of compassion.
But the Rav, with his goodhearted nature, was not deterred. He rationalized that one foolish individual was not a reason to change his habit of pitying all unfortunate individuals.
After a short while, the poor man sobered up and realized that his letter was lost. He went back to Rav Abl’i and related how unfortunately he had lost his letter and was in need of another one.
With a smile on his face, the Rav responded that he owes him a big Yasher Koach, a thank you. “It always bothered me why the common saying describing a drunkard is ‘Drunk like Lot’ (see Eruvin 65a). Do we not find earlier in the Torah (Bereishis 9:21) that Noach got drunk after he exited the Teiva? Why don’t we say ‘Drunk like Noach,’ who lived before Lot? But now, thanks to you,” said Rav Abl’I, “I have the answer. When Noach got drunk, it was after the Mabul, and he had already married off all his children. Therefore, getting drunk wasn’t as detrimental to him. But in Lot’s case, it was different. You still have two daughters to marry off! How can you let yourself get drunk?! Lot’s drunkenness was way more costly. So forever after, a drunkard is compared to Lot!”


Hachnosas Orchim

Parshas Vayeira begins by giving a detailed account of the extraordinary dedication displayed by Avraham Avinu when welcoming his guests. From running to greet them, to hastily preparing an elaborate meal, and offering them a place to rest. The Gemara (B.M. 86) says that in the same manner that Avraham provided for his guests, his descendants were provided for by Hashem in the desert. Later in the Parsha, we find that Avraham planted an Eshel, which Chazal (See Sotah 10, Rashi, and Shocher Tov 37) interpret to mean that he created an establishment providing the wayfarer with food and drink, a place to rest, as well as accompaniment when leaving, referred to as Levaya.
The Rambam (Hil. Evel. Ch. 14) writes that this Mitzvah is included in the general category of Veahavta L’reyacha Kamocha, doing for others what we would like done to ourselves, although its specific guidelines were originally practiced and established by Avraham Avinu. The Chofetz Chaim (Ahavas Chesed 3, 2) writes that the Torah, which usually touches only briefly on the actions of our forefathers, describes this act of kindness at length, in order to teach us which necessary steps should be taken when welcoming guests. We can learn from Avraham Avinu that one should seek out guests and greet them with eagerness and warmth. He should also offer them a place to sit, and water to wash up with while they wait for a meal to be prepared. As Avraham did, one should tend to the guests himself[1], and involve his children in the performance of the Mitzvah. Finally, one who can afford to do so should set aside a separate room in his house for guests to rest in. If this is not feasible, the community as a whole should see to it that there be adequate living quarters for the wayfarers. R’ Yonah (Avos 1, 5) adds that one’s house should be situated, like Avraham’s, in a place easily accessible to the public, in order to better serve those seeking food and lodging.
We must point out though, that there is something about Hachnosas Orchim which distinguishes it from other types of Gemilus Chasadim. Firstly, the Rambam (ibid), based on the Gemara (See Sanhedrin 104), writes that the reward for welcoming and escorting a guest is greater than the one promised for other forms of Chesed. Furthermore, the Gemara in Shabbos (27) infers from the fact that Avraham Avinu interrupted his session with Hashem in order to welcome his guests, that Hachnosas Orchim is great even than being in the presence of the Shechina, although we find no such statement regarding other Mitzvos.
We may explain the reason for this, based on the Maharal, that unlike other acts of Chesed, whose main purpose is to address the need of a fellow Jew, Hachnosas Orchim is an expression of our respect for the actual person himself. By bringing him into our home and tending to his every need, we are acknowledging the Tzelem Elokim, the likeness of the Creator, inherent in every human being. This is the reason why, as the Yesh Nochlin (see Ahavas Chesed) writes, the Mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim applies equally to the wealthy guest, although he doesn’t lack a decent meal, because it is an act which has the power to give a feeling of worth to the recipient, and to create peace and harmony among Jews (see Sanhedrin 104)[2].
This may therefore be the reason why Hachnosas Orchim deserves more reward than other forms of kindness, and why it is greater than being in the presence of the Shechina. It may also serve to explain why, as Chazal (Tanchuma, P. Shmos 16, and P. Ki Seitzey 2) tell us, one who welcomes guests merits to bring a child into the world. Because one who can show respect and worth to a fellow Jew and to the Tzelem Elokim within him is deservant of bringing yet another human being to the world.
A similar understanding of the purpose of Hachnosas Orchim is mentioned by the Alter of Kelm (Chochma U’Mussar), in order to explain the Gemara (Sotah 45) that deems a community liable of bloodshed if they failed to escort a wayfarer out of the city, and he was subsequently a victim of assault. He writes that had they escorted their guest, they would have given him a feeling of respect and self-worth, which would have likely given him enough confidence to fight with the attacker, and save his life.