appeared to him (Avraham) in the plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the
entrance of the tent in the heat of the day. He lifted his eyes and saw three
men were standing over him...And he said, “let some water be brought and wash
your feet, and recline beneath the tree” (Gen. Ch.18 V.1,2,3).
beginning of this week’s portion takes place on the third day after
Avraham’s circumcision. Avraham was in tremendous pain (the third day after
circumcision is the most painful day) and G-d was visiting him. Originally, G-d
had made it extremely hot in order to ensure that Avraham did not get any
visitors while he was in such intense pain. Yet, the lack of visitors caused
Avraham even more pain., so G-d sent Avraham some special visitors: angels.
Talmud mentions (Shabbos 127a) that when Avraham saw these visitors that G-d had
sent (he was not yet aware that they were angels, as they appeared as men), he
made a strange request of G-d: “please my Master, wait for me until I have
fulfilled the mitzvah of hospitality.” This is a most unusual request.
Aren’t the commandments merely the means through which to achieve the end, the
end being closeness with G-d? And if Avraham was already talking to G-d, he had
already reached the end, so why would he forsake the end to pursue the means?
there is a deeper understanding to performing the commandments. We do not
perform them merely to get close to G-d, we perform them to imitate
G-d. This whole incident started with G-d visiting Avraham. The Talmud relates (Sotah
14a) that G-d was performing “bikur
cholim — visiting the sick; “just as G-d visits the sick, we must visit
the sick.” This is strange. Why
does G-d visit the sick? He’s
G-d; we are the ones commanded to do good deeds, not Him.
should change our perspective of the commandments. The commandments are not a
bunch of arbitrary laws we perform in order to gain “brownie points” with
G-d. We perform these commandments in order to imitate G-d. When G-d was
visiting Avraham, even though Avraham was undoubtedly gaining from the visit, He
was not imitating G-d. So when the opportunity arose for Avraham to actually
imitate G-d and fulfill the commandment: “and you shall go in His ways”
(Deut. Ch.26 V.17), Avraham jumped at the opportunity. Even though he was
leaving his conversation with G-d, he was going up a level in sanctity by
performing this commandment.
by definition is good. We get close to Him by imitating Him and performing the
commandments. This is true of the commandments between man and man, and the
commandments between man and G-d.
In recent years the phrase Tikkun Olam — to repair the world — has become very popular. Although this phrase is mentioned several times throughout our writings, how come this phrase was never used to describe our mission as Jews until recently? The answer is that by performing the commandments enumerated in the Torah, we are repairing the world. So a more appropriate phrase than “Tikkun Olam” would be “following the Torah”.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.