In his sefer דרך עץ חיים, the Ramchal offers vital advice, important ideas for one to think about, for those dedicated people who want to become great in the eyes of Hashem. And he tells us that האדם החושב על זה קרוב אל השלימות מאד – “One who thinks about these things, is very close to the perfection that he was created for.” He calls it the תרופה היותר גדולה וחזקה… ופעולתה גדולה ופריה רב – “The most effective prescription, the most effective advice for perfection of character, with effects that are great and immensely valuable.” And if the Ramchal introduces the subject with such great words, then it pays for us to listen.
And what does he tell us? He says that man must find the time every day to sit in solitude and he must contemplate some of the most important questions of life. And what is one of the most basic questions that every Jew must ponder. A man should take some time every day, says the Ramchal, and he should ask himself the question: “What was it that Avrohom Avinu did that Hashem loved him so dearly? What was it that made him so beloved by Hakodosh Boruch Hu that he was chosen to be the father of the most holy nation?” And after much thought about the practices of this great man, Avraham, let him say ואעשה כן גם אני, “Let me do likewise. Let me also walk in these ways of Avraham, ways that will help me find favor in the eyes of Hashem.” How can one say, “I want to be like Avraham our father,” if he doesn’t really know what Avraham was about. And therefore, a person must make time, he must create time, during his busy life, to think deeply – with details – about Avraham Avinu and how he lived.
Now, our minds are filled with stories of Avraham Avinu. We know the stories. Who doesn’t? We think we know, but really we know very little. The ideas that fill our minds are vague and sometimes even childish. And therefore, if you want to succeed at this program for greatness, it will require first that you study deeply and thoroughly the life, and the practices, of Avraham Avinu.
So what do the pesukim tell us about Avraham Avinu? How did this giant of a man lead his life? Let’s study together a little bit of what we know about Avraham, and together we can begin walking the path to greatness.
We read in the beginning of the parsha, והוא ישב פתח האהל כחום היום – “And Avraham was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day” (Bereishis 18:1). Now, when the Torah tells us that Avraham was sitting at the doorway of his tent, searching out the desert landscape for wayfarers upon whom to perform acts of kindness, you must understand that this was not merely a one-time event. It didn’t happen only once a year, when it came time for פרשת וירא. When the Torah tells us this, it is revealing a דרך, a practice, that Avraham always followed. It was the permanent and constant practice of Avraham to sit at the entrance, every day, in the hope that he would find wayfarers on whom to bestow hospitality. These words are a בנין אב, a model, for all of the behavior of Avraham. He constantly sought out the needy wayfarers, in order to offer his kindness to them. והוא ישב “And [Avraham] was sitting,” really means: “Avraham was always sitting.”
And so too, when the Torah describes Avraham running out into the blistering heat to greet the guests, bowing down before them, and begging them to come into his home of hospitality, you must understand the following: Avraham was always running out of his tent to bestow kindness upon those in need. Of course, we all know that here the Torah is describing the exceptional case. It was a scorching hot day, and Avraham, an elderly man who was still healing from the bris milah, was suffering in pain as he bandaged his wound. On this day, it was by no means easy to remain true to his practices of chesed. And yet, he still remained firm, he still persisted, in the דרך, the way of life, that he had chosen, a life of performing kindness. The Torah only stresses this case to make us aware that this was always the practice of Avraham.
And it wasn’t merely that Avraham would gladly perform chesed when the opportunity presented itself. It was much more than that. Avraham eagerly awaited opportunities to serve Hashem by performing kindness, and to him, the greatest peril was the danger of losing the opportunity to bestow kindness upon other. Avraham searched for chesed, because he lived a life that was permeated with the desire to make others happy.
And that’s why, even while suffering in the pain of his wounds, Avraham ran towards the wayfarers. And in order to gain their consent the consent to partake of his kindness, he bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My masters, please do not pass away from your servant” (ibid. 18:3). Imagine what was happening. Here is an elderly man in pain, a חולה, who is running, begging, and throwing himself on the ground, all because he wants to do chesed. And then, he’s running back and forth from the tent, to the guests, to the cattle, doing whatever he could to make his guests, a few wandering Arabs, as comfortable as possible.
And we see that all of the deeds of kindness that Avraham performed were done with great alacrity. “And [Avraham] ran towards them…And Avraham hastened to the tent, to Sarah…And he said, ‘Make haste’… And to the cattle, Avraham ran…And he gave it to the young man, and he hastened to make it.” Avraham was always running to perform acts of kindness, because running is an indication of eagerness. The word רץ, to run, is the root of the word רצון, eager desire. Eagerness is a sign of love, and Avraham loved Hashem so greatly, that he cherished every act of service towards Him.
Now there is no doubt that had we been there to witness first-hand this behavior of Avraham, we would have considered his actions excessive. And I use the word excessive in deference to our own honor. Actually, we would have considered his behavior irrational and unbecoming of such a great man. Too extreme for us. “The man of spirit – the man who is dedicated fully to Hashem – is a madman” (Hoshea 9:7). He appears to be a madman, a meshuganeh, in the eyes of others. And it’s always that way. The deeds, the service of Hashem, of the very great men are considered irrational by men of lesser stature.
But where did this extremism derive from? What was it that caused Avraham, the greatest original thinker who ever lived, to live a life dedicated to the ideal of chesed? Was it simply the case of a man with a soft heart, a sensitive and caring man, who simply couldn’t bear to see the suffering of his fellow man? No; that’s not greatness; that’s merely instinct. The instinct to do good is important, it’s very important, but only as a spur to bring forth the true greatness that lies deep in a person’s soul. For Avraham Avinu, the acts of kindness, actually his life of kindness, was much more profound. It was grounded in his overall השקפת החיים, his attitude towards his purpose in life.
It was only after many years of thought, that Avraham arrived at this world outlook. And he based this world outlook, his השקפת החיים, on a revelation. Now, when we say revelation here, it is meant in a certain especial sense. And what we mean, is the revelation of nature. Avraham Avinu was a great student of nature. Much, much greater than all of the professors in the colleges who are studying nature. Because they were educated to be fools. They study, and yet, they understand nothing at all. Avraham spent all of his youthful years thinking. And he was thinking with a clear mind, a mind unsullied by the writings and ideas of the wicked evolutionists. He was always looking around him at creation, and marveling at the plan and purpose. Whatever you heard here, however many hours you’ve listened to me talking about the wonders of Hashem that we see in His creations, is nothing compared to what Avraham Avinu discovered in the early years of his life. And even what we speak about tonight, is but a drop in the bucket of what Avraham was thinking. He studied the seeds, and he studies the fruits and the plants. He studied the processes of the bodies of animals and humans. He studies the emotions of human beings. He studied the vast sky, and the sun and the moon and the clouds and the rain. Hours and days and years of studying what surrounded him.
And Avraham, the ever-inquisitive and curious young man, asked questions about everything he saw. He wasn’t satisfied with merely recognizing the infinite intelligence in all of Creation. Of course, he saw plan and purpose. And of course he saw supreme intelligence. He saw Hakodosh Boruch in the world around him! But that was only the first step. He asked questions, and more questions. And all the questions led him to the same answer. And that is our topic for tonight.
As Avraham made his way in this world, he took notice of the endless variety of pleasures available to mankind. Avraham knew just well that man could exist even for the noblest of purposes without pepper, ginger and cinnamon. Why, asked Avraham, did Hashem plant in His world – it’s His world afterall – for what purpose did He plant cloves, and saffron, and sage, and mustard and all the multitude of spices? It’s superfluous; we could do just fine without the endless variety. And after much thought about these various pleasures of taste, Avraham concluded that the one and only purpose of all this, is pleasure – the pleasure of mankind.
When Avraham passed an orchard, and saw the red apples hanging from the tree, he reminded himself of the green grapes he had seen a bit earlier in the day. And the yellow bananas from yesterday. And the peaches, and the berries. All luscious fruits, all varied in taste from one another. Now, for a dimwitted fellow, someone whose mind is empty, these sights would mean nothing at all. But Avraham was a thinker. And these sights brought him to an understanding of the deepest secret of this world. Avraham was shocked, he stood in awe, before the various tastes that Hashem was making available to man. Taste is a kindness. Did you ever taste the brown earth? Try it once; you’ll see that it’s not so delectable. And out of this brown earth, Hashem brought forth a multitude of fruits and vegetables. And each one has its own special taste. Taste is not an accident. The taste of an orange is different than the taste of a pineapple. The taste of strawberries is different than the taste of blueberries. Avraham observed that in addition to the pleasures of various cuts of meat and fowl, the many grains, fish and vegetables, the Creator wishes men to enjoy sweet and sour and bitter and creosote-taste condiments, and then to experience, as well, the varied delights of cherries, grapes, bananas, oranges, pineapples, onions and tomatoes, and all the various fruits and vegetables. Why so much? For what purpose? All to provide mankind with an endless variety of pleasures. That is the sole reason for everything, concluded Avraham.
Avraham asked himself, “What was the Creator’s purpose in making apples red? If Hashem had made apples the same bland color as potatoes, people would still eat them. What can you do, if you have nothing better to eat? An bland colored apple can also taste sweet. Do oranges have to become a golden yellow? Why can’t they remain colorless?” And Avraham saw the same, by countless other fruit and vegetables. And so, Avraham realized that the purpose of the color was to let people know that the fruit are ready to be eaten. Color is a chesed. It was kindliness. So that people shouldn’t have to risk biting into a raw banana or an unripe apple. The color is telling us when the fruit is ripe. The beautiful colors, the shades of red, the yellow hues, are there to attract your attention. “I’m ready to be eaten now,” the fruit call out to you when they change into their beautiful colors.
And Avraham saw even more than that. There were hundreds of various shades of color in the food that Hashem was providing. Some dark, some bright, all of them for the purpose of pleasure. The colors make eating more fun. More enjoyable. Because anything that looks beautiful is more enjoyable to eat.
And Avraham could not fail to see the happiness of color that was evident in all of the world – not merely in the orchards. When Avraham woke in the morning, and looked up to the heavens, he saw a beautiful sight. Hashem had painted for him the clear blue sky, spotted with wisps of clouds over the horizon. It was a pleasure. And the beautiful blue sky was only the beginning of a most colorful day. The green of the trees and the grass, the beautiful hues of the various flowers, the gold orange glory of sunrise and sunset, the magic of the moonlight. And for what? That’s what Avraham asked himself. For what purpose are all these beautiful colors that Hashem is painting? It’s nothing but for the sole purpose of the pleasure of man. The multiplicity of luscious fruits, condiments and colors in this world, leaves not the slightest doubt that the Creator intended these seemingly unnecessary pleasures solely for the purpose of kindliness to man (Tosfos Brachos 37a).
And Avraham asked himself hundreds and thousands of questions like these. All of the details of Creation that we take for granted, everything that we ignore, Avraham thought about. And all the answers – not some of the answers, but all of the answers – led to one conclusion. Everywhere that Avraham turned to look in the Creation, he saw the kindness of the Creator. And Avraham came to the conclusion that עולם חסד יבנה – “The world was built for the purpose of kindliness” (Tehillim 89:3).Not only is there a Creator, but that the Creator is a חפץ חסד whose sole intention is to bestow happiness on mankind.
Avraham saw that this world was stacked with so many things that were planned for pleasure. He didn’t see ten or twenty such phenomena; he saw hundreds of thousands of them. He made a life project out of studying Hashem in Creation. And every detail he observed was a kindness. It wasn’t just something Avraham noticed here and there. It was all that Avraham saw. עולם חסד יבנה! Hashem had built a world of chesed! Every detail clearly pointed in that direction.
And from this, Avraham understood a very fundamental lesson. If in nature, we find that more than anything else, we see kindness, then it proves that this aspect of creation is more important than anything else. And since there is nothing in the world as perceptible, as clear, as the fact that the world is full of good things that are planned for the enjoyment of Man, therefore Avraham came to the conclusion that this is a most important revelation. Hakodosh Boruch Hu doesn’t show anything of Himself. He’s entirely invisible. But what does He show? He shows, by tens of thousands of examples, that He wishes to make people happy, to give people enjoyment. And if that is the most prominent thing in nature, then it must be that that is what Hashem wants us to know about Him more than anything else. It was so evident, so open and clear. How could anyone see differently? How could you miss something that is staring you in the face?
So here’s a man who calls me on the telephone. He’s eager to know about Hakodosh Boruch Hu; “What is He? Who is He? What are His ways? How can I see Him? How can I describe Him?” This man wants to know Hashem.
You don’t have to search out the far ends of the world to know Hashem. There was a man in our shul whose son went to India for three years. He said he wanted to find G-d. Who needs India to find G-d?! What did he find in India? Basements for smoking marijuana. And diseases. All the diseases that we can’t find in America, he was able to find in the beautiful India. And pickpocketers, people who will take all your money. Who needs India?
And it’s not only India! You don’t need to search out the secrets of life in the hidden seforim to find Hashem. To find Hashem, to see Hashem, you don’t need the mystical secrets of the world. You don’t need to look at all. Hashem is evident all around you. All you have to do is open your eyes and think.
And that’s what Avraham came along and said: “His ways are described. It’s no secret. They are open in the world.” Because on all sides you can see the great general principle, with all the details, that He is a חפץ חסד. There is nothing in the world that is more conspicuous than this demonstration, that Hashem wishes to do kindness to mankind.
Now, Avraham understood that Hashem could have revealed Himself to us in any way He wished. Nothing was holding Him back. If everything in Creation is planned – nothing is an accident – then why is it that Hakodosh Boruch Hu shows nothing of Himself except strawberries and gooseberries and blueberries and cherries and oranges and apples and peaches and onions? Onions! And thousands of other items. Nuts of all kinds. Sensations of all kinds. Fragrances of all kinds. Sight of all kinds.
And even the air we breathe is a happiness and a great benefit. Air?! A happiness?! Yes, air is a great happiness. And if you don’t believe me, you can fill up your kitchen sink with water, and then stick your head into the water; your whole head, nose and mouth and all. Now leave it there for one full minute. And then, when you’re finally about to burst, come out for that deep first breath. Oh, is that a pleasure. Ahhh, air! The great elixir of life. To drink water is a delight. It’s a pleasure as well as a benison for the body. The sunlight, the wind, the rain, the trees and the gardens, the streets, the mountains and the seas, the moon and the stars, fire, heat and cold, the snow and the dew, the use of our limbs, the ability to see and to hear and to smell and to taste and to feel, the faculty of thought and memory. And clothing! Clothing!! The materials that Hashem created to keep us warm and comfortable! Wool, and linen, and cotton! The many materials which compose our homes and utensils. The oceans are full of fish for us to eat, and the fields full of cows providing us with milk and meat. All the minerals that add pleasure and comforts to our lives. Wood, and coal, and petroleum, and all the resources of the earth, that were placed there for our benefit. And I just began the list. There is an endless list of useful and pleasurable objects and processes that fill our lives with all forms of enjoyment. The world is fully stocked with all good things. That’s what Hashem chooses to show us of Himself. That’s what He wants us to know.
And Avraham Avinu saw that. He saw that Hashem was trying to do His best – He can’t do anymore than that – to teach us about Himself. To teach us the facts that we are supposed to know about Him. It doesn’t help us to know about Hakodosh Boruch Hu. It won’t help you to know more about Him! Because we’re not capable of understanding. But this one fact, we are capable of understanding. And that fact is the most important for us to know. That what? That Hakodosh Boruch Hu is intent on giving everyone the things that will make him happy. That’s the Hakodosh Boruch Hu that we know. That’s what Hashem revealed to us of Himself.
And therefore Avraham went out into the world with his new teaching. And he taught the world that Hakodosh Boruch desires to demonstrate to us who He is – a חפץ חסד – in order that we should emulate Him. Avraham came and introduced the concept that Hakodosh Boruch Hu does not want anything but compassion, and not only compassion; He wants you to bestow happiness on others. And Avraham said to them. “I’ll prove it to you from your own emotions, that this is what Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants. Don’t you see that when you do a kindness to somebody, you experience a glow within you? You don’t have that glow when you hurt somebody.” When you do something good to your fellow man, you experience a satisfaction within you. That’s an instinct. That’s an instinct that Hashem created. And Avraham said, that itself is a demonstration that Hakodosh Boruch Hu desires of you that you should be devoted to the ideal that He is devoted to – the ideal that you see all around you – the ideal of making people happy.
And Avraham lived a life that was suffused with his own teachings. He transformed himself into a חפץ חסד. And not stam. Avraham was extreme, he was wild with enthusiasm, about doing chesed. He was extreme to the utmost because he saw that Hashem was so extreme in His chesed. Avraham’s extreme idealism of bestowing benefits upon others, was merely a faint attempt at resembling his Creator. It was a pale reflection of the extreme and overwhelming kindness, and countless forms of benevolence, that he saw his Creator showering upon Mankind.
And all of you have the opportunity to be an Avraham Avinu. And you don’t have to be a yeshiva-man, or a man of wealth like Avraham. All you have to do is open your eyes, and open your mind, to the chesed Hashem that surrounds you wherever you go. Because that’s exactly what Avraham did. And that’s what we started doing here tonight. But to be מקיים the advice of the Ramchal, you must take these ideas and never tire of reviewing them. Because these ideas are the keys to perfection. And you don’t have to study the secrets of the DNA helix, and the details of nucleotides, either. Why search for the complicated secrets with nuclear microscopes, when you have not even begun to digest all of the chesed Hashem that is before your own two eyes? The path to success lies with repeated thinking about all of the ideas we spoke about tonight. You must not allow it to be merely a superficial and passing thought in your mind. You have to look, and think, and look and think, and sear these ideas into your mind. And every added thought, every grain of recognition of the chesed Hashem, will lead you further and further down the path that Avraham Avinu took, and further down the path towards perfection in the eyes of Hashem.
Have a wonderful Shabbos