"Let some water be brought.I will get a morsel of bread for you. hurry three measures of the finest flour! Knead it and make cakes..Abraham ran to the cattle and chose a tender choice calf. He gave it to a young man. Abraham fetched some cream and milk and the calf that he prepared and he placed it before them. He stood over them as they ate.." (18:3-8). Surely the Torah has no interest in describing the intricacies of fine dining - have rolls and water on the table, make sure the waiters give quick and efficient service as they constantly check in on the customers, and prepare cake for desert even if in the end they are not eaten. Yes we want to emphasize hachansat orchim , the great efforts that Abraham, recuperating from surgery, went to actively seek out guests. But that the Torah which barely hints as why Abraham was chosen to found a special nation, which tells us nothing about his first seventy five years has to go into such fine detail. Why?
It is rare that the Torah teaches us its lesson directly. We are often told little about the character of Biblical personalities, and often the Torah does not directly voice its feeling of approval (or not) re the actions of our greats - rather through stories, seemingly extra or missing words, pauses, hints, subtle changes in phraseology, we are to piece together the message of the Torah. While this may be a much more difficult way to teach - and some may not even learn - it is clearly much more effective. As participants and analyzers of the unfolding Biblical narrative text, its lessons can then impact and resonate with us. This method also allows and encourages multiple interpretations in accord with the rabbinic teaching that there are seventy faces to the Torah. To cite just two examples: "There was famine in the land and Abraham went down to Egypt. Did Abraham teach that we are not to rely on miracles or did he perhaps display a lack of faith in not trusting G-d to bring him through hard times? The Torah does not tell us. Our ambivalent attitude towards Lot is not based on anything we are directly told but a careful and nuanced reading of the text.
So it must be with our little meal. Instead of commanding us to perform this crucial mitzvah the Torah tells us the story and leaves the rest to us. A close reading of the text will reveal that the Torah uses the expression to run, to hurry no less than five times. We will also learn that one can interrupt G-d - put him on call waiting so to speak - in order to serve man. But not the other way around. Is it right when people daven Maariv during a wedding? What right do they have to neglect the mitzvah of bringing joy to a chatan and kallah so they can fulfil a custom which they can do after the wedding? Not convenient ...well what do you think Abraham would do?
While Abraham may have told his wife to hurry up and bake some cake the Torah immediately tells us that Abraham went to prepare the animals. One can only ask another person (especially one's wife) to help if you are working even harder. Our sages teach that Abraham observed the Torah before it was actually given - though this too is of course not found in the text- thus it is surprising he gave his guests meat and milk. Surprising only if you fail to understand that one should never push our religious acts of piety and stringency on others. We can, however, demand others act ethically, but we are not to impose our religious rules. Our sages teach us that Abraham had them wash their feet in order to cleanse any possible traces of idolatry - which Judaism has always understood as a licence for immorality as one is no longer answerable to a single Deity. Yet while Abraham, rejected idolatry (read immorality) he welcomed idolaters. Do we do the same?
"Greater to service a scholar than to learn from their scholarship" (Berachot 7b). Seeing somebody in action is so much more meaningful and much more effective that listening to a lecture. Let us realize that Biblical stories are the greatest lessons in moral living. Shabbat Shalom!