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Browse Torah Articles: Sefer Beresheet: Parashat Vayera: Shem VeEver vs. Abraham

Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi

Our parahsha begins with Abraham Avinou, elderly and sick, on the third day after his circumcision. Our rabbis tell us that the third day, the pain from a circumcision is most dangerous. Of the three messengers of God that came to visit Abarham, one had the task of specifically healing the aging Abraham from his suffering.

In order to allow Abraham to heal, we read that Hashem caused the temperature to become unbearably hot, so that people would not be traveling. Abraham used to open his tent to passerbys, giving them food, water and shelter, while at the same time teaching them about monotheism. Hashem wanted Abraham to rest, and so, in His divine method, Hashem ensured that there would be no passerbys.

In the midrash, we see and interesting conversation between Hashem and Abraham. Abraham turns to Hashem and asks: "Before I made the circumcision, I used to have many people come to me. And now, after the circumcision, no one is coming to me!" Hashem answered: "Before your circumcision, you had guests who were arelim (non-circumcised) come visit you, but now that you are circumcised, I will come myself to visit you." And this is what we read in the first verse, "Hashem appeared to Abraham".

We can ask a very plausible question- why did Abraham come to Hashem with this claim, yet when told later in the parasha to sacrifice his only son, he stays quiet? In addition, we can ask a further question. What made Abraham unique in his generation? There were other righteous individuals in his generation, like Shem and Ever, who had a yeshivah producing thousands of students, who must have also spoke out against idolatry. Why is Abraham alone known as the one who converted all the these people?

Maran in the Kesef Mishneh answers these questions. Abraham was different than Shem and Ever because he taught to the masses. Shem and Ever only taught to their students. This is also why Abraham complained to Hashem that there were no passer-bys. Teaching these passer-bys is what made Abraham unique above all other righteous individuals during his generation, so much so that he was upset that people stopped coming by due to the heat.

We can learn a tremendous lesson. The greatness of individuals that sacrifice and toil for the needs of the many, outweighs the greatness of those individuals that toil for the needs of the few. There is no doubt that had Abraham sat in the Yeshivah of Shem and Ever, he would ascend and become a great Talmid Hacham. However, what Abraham did achieve was greater. He effected the Jewish nation as a whole, specifically by creating the Jewish nation. Similarly, rabbis in our day, that sacrifice their own personal learning; learning that if they continued with their full strength and time, they would be on the top of the Jewish learning world; in order to help bring about change in entire qahals, are the true heroes. At the core of this phenomenon is self-sacrifice, something anyone can learn from. If one stop thinking about all of one's needs, and focuses on the needs of the community at large, we would all be in a better situation.
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