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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.

At the start of this week's parasha, G-d appears to Avraham while he was sitting at the doorway of his tent "in the heat of the day". G-d saw that Avraham was pained that no visitors were coming by, so He sent three angels to Avraham in the form of men. Why was Avraham pained by the fact that he had no guests? If no one was on the road (because of extreme weather conditions), there would not be anyone in need of food or drink or a place to stay.

To elaborate, when a big snowstorm hits people are typically not out in the streets, there is no need to worry during the storm since usually everyone has found shelter somewhere beforehand. Avraham should have been thrilled by the hot weather. No one was on the road. Everyone was happy and taken care of. Why was he pained? What was his problem?

The premise of our question is that the purpose of ‘Chessed' (kindness) is to provide for people's needs, and if no one is in need, a 'Baal Chessed', one who regularly does kindness, should not have anything to do. However, our premise is incorrect. Avraham is the personification of a 'Jewish Baal Chessed', not the personification of a welfare dispenser. The Government gives welfare. It gives welfare because people need welfare, and would be very happy if in fact no one was in need of welfare. Agencies that help the poor or homeless would prefer, ideally, to have no business. They dream of a world where no one is homeless and everyone has food. It is ostensibly the goal of every helping agency to go out of business.

Such is the case of someone interested in providing welfare. But the 'Baal Chessed' realizes that which the Midrash teaches; "more than the homeowner provides for the poor person, the poor person provides for the homeowner." [Vayikra Rabba 34] A Jew needs to perform Chessed –- "not for sake of the recipient, but for th sake of the giver!" To become a better human being, to become a human being in the image of the Almighty, emulating HIM in the most perfect way. I MUST do Chessed.

Therefore, it doesn't follow that, if everyone is taken care of, I can be happy and not have to worry about dispensing welfare. Avraham teaches us that when one is incapable of providing Chessed –- for whatever reason – you are missing out on one of the most import aspects of living a meaningful life. Such is the condition Avraham found to be so painful in this week's parasha.