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Tuesday
Oct312017

COMMUNICATION 101

GENUINE HOSPITALITY

Where did Jewish people get their kindness?

The Talmud states that one trait endemic to the Jewish people is kindness. Our Sages teach us that we inherited this trait from Abraham. Nowhere is Abraham’s kindness more evident than in this week’s description of his hospitality.

The Torah relates that Abraham “ran to the cattle, took a calf. Tender and good, and gave it to the youth who hurried to prepare it.”

The Talmud (Bava Metzia 86b) states that Abraham actually “took three bulls in order to feed them [the disguised angels] three tongues in mustard.”

The basis for the Talmud’s explanation is that by adding the word and between tender and good, when the Torah could have simply said, “he took a tender, good calf,” suggests that there were three different bulls. And since nobody could eat an entire bull, it was obvious that Abraham needed separate bulls for their tongues.

Rashi cites this Talmudic explanation that Abraham served tongue with mustard, but most likely based it on the fact that the bull is described here as “good.” Why did the Torah have to specify that? Isn’t it obvious that Abraham would only serve his guests good food?

Rashi likely consulted earlier verses, where “good” appears in the context of something that is not just acceptable but better than average; as something unique. We find an example of this in the very beginning of Genesis, where the Torah describes the light created on the first day as “good.” Rashi teaches us that “good” as used there meant that the light was too good for the wicked and G-d had to hide the light created on the first day for discovery by the righteous in the future.

Likewise, the Torah describes the quality of gold as good. Isn’t all gold good? However, in this instance the Torah meant it was a high quality of good.

Furthermore, when Eve stands before the Tree of Knowledge she sees it as good, meaning appetizing and appealing.

Rashi thus construed the use of “good” in the verse we are discussing to mean that Abraham served his guests a delicacy. In those days, as remains true in modern times, we use condiments, such as mustard, to make food more appetizing and appealing.  Indeed, according to the Talmud, when the Kohanim ate the meat of their sacrifices they had to partake of it “in the manner of royalty,” by using mustard.

From the premise that Abraham served meat with mustard Rashi deduces that it was tongue, since that is the delicacy most often eaten with mustard. Since each animal has only one tongue Rashi concluded that Abraham must have slaughtered three bulls, to give each of his three guests a full and equal portion. The Torah’s use of three different words to describe the animal that Abraham took must mean that there were actually three animals.

To evaluate Rashi’s assertion, all one need do is read this week’s parsha. Even a cursory review will underscore Abraham’s unparalleled hospitality.

Rashi makes that point crystal clear when he writes that “G-d saw that Abraham was suffering on account of the lack of wayfarers, since it was unbearably hot on that day, G-d therefore sent him angels disguised as people to enable him to practice hospitality.”

Abraham did not perform hospitality by simply going through the motions. In this parsha we see clearly the lengths to which Abraham went to provide his guests with the very best. Indeed, Rashi says that notwithstanding the fact that Abraham was still ailing from his auto-circumcision at the age of 99 (ouch!), he still ran to and fro to provide for his guests and involve everyone in his household in this great Mitzvah as well. Finally, as the lavish meal was served, Abraham “stood over them beneath the tree and they ate.” He left nothing out of his performance of this Mitzvah. He did it with his body, heart and soul.

The lesson for us is obvious. We, too, must learn how to exhibit unmitigated kindness and hospitality.

In relation to our primary task of preparation for Moshiach, the idea of hospitality translates into giving G-d a home in this world. Every Mitzvah we do fulfils G-d’s purpose for creation: to make the world a dwelling place for G-d.

This week’s parsha teaches the lengths to which we must go to practice both terrestrial and celestial hospitality.

MULTI-LINGUAL

There is another interpretation of the three tongues with mustard.

When approaching people for the first time, we must try to find the right words with which to invite them into our lives. The three tongues Abraham served suggest that he spoke to each of his guests in a different tone commensurate with their different personalities (or, shall we say: “angel-alities.”)

These three angels, we are told, were each sent for a different mission. One was to give Sarah the good news that she would bear a child, another was to destroy the wicked city of Sodom, and the third was sent to heal Abraham from his circumcision.

These three angels paralleled three different human traits: One trait is chesed-kindness, represented by the Angel Michael. The second is g’vura-judgment, represented by the angel Gabriel. The third is tiferes-harmony, represented by the angel Rafael. This trait provides the balance between chesed and g’vura.

When speaking to a person, we must endeavor to know their dominating trait and appeal to it by garnishing our speech to them with “relish.” And, while Abraham himself was identified with the trait of kindness, he went out of his comfort zone to connect to those whose approach was g’vura or tiferes.

We are living in the terminal stage of history before the Final Redemption. We do not have the luxury of time to experiment with the way we relate to others and bring them into our lives. We have to become, metaphorically speaking, multi-lingual in preparation for the time when we will all speak the same language. And while our message never changes, the way we communicate it must.

CORRECTING THE DEBASED WORLD

There is yet another way to understand the three tongues in mustard:

The Kabbalistic work Megaleh Amukos explains that Abraham’s life was dedicated to correcting the things that caused the world to become debased.

One of the sins he tried to correct is lashon ha’ra-the evil tongue or slander. The Talmud states that it harms three people: the speaker, the listener and the person slandered. Abraham’s offer of the three tongues was a physical acting out of the spiritual removal of these three destructive aspects of the tongue.

ALLUSION TO MOSHIACH

Megaleh Amukos provides yet another interpretation of the three tongues. The Hebrew word for tender is rach, which is also part of the Hebrew word for mustard char-dal. (Rach and char share the same letters.) The word chardal also contains chad, which means sharp; the opposite of rach. Moshiach, he writes is both tender and sharp. He will be sharp to the depraved nations of the world who have persecuted the Jewish people. Moshiach, however, will be soft to the Jewish people.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, known as the Defender of Israel, interprets the meaning of chardal in a way that supports and expands on the interpretation in the Megaleh Amukos.

The word char-dal is associated in the Talmud with the word har-dal (the letters ches and hei are interchangeable.) The word har-mountain is a metaphor for the evil-impulse that entices us to sin, and appears to us as a formidable power, difficult to resist. The word dal-poor, is a metaphor for the good inclination which is tragically poor, lacking all the support the evil impulse gets from the various temptations that surround us. The good inclination does not enter a person until his or her Bas or Bar Mitzvah and is, therefore, years behind its rival, the evil impulse.

Abraham subconsciously knew that his visitors were angels, who often sit in judgment of the Jewish people. He wanted them to know that they must not judge us harshly given the enormous challenge that our evil impulse poses; it is as formidable as a mountain. And that, conversely, our good inclination is so weak that it is often incapable of mustering a strong defense against the evil impulse.

USING THREE TONGUES TO BRING MOSHIACH

How does one neutralize the negative effects of the evil inclination and the Galus it has caused?

The answer lies in the three tongues.

The Talmud (K’subos 103a) states:

“The language (literally: tongue) of the Sages is blessing; the language of the Sages is wealth; the language of the Sages is healing.”

“Blessing” alludes to refining our manner of speech so as always to be positive. In relation to Moshiach this means we should always wish each other G-d’s blessings, particularly the blessing of Moshiach.

The term “wealth” refers to the true wealth, which is the acquisition of wisdom. The Talmud states that there is no greater form of poverty than the poverty of knowledge. It follows, therefore, that there is no greater form of wealth than the acquisition of knowledge.

In relation to Moshiach this means we should enrich ourselves with the knowledge of Torah, specifically its teachings about the ultimate era, when we will be deluged with spiritual wealth.

The term “healing” refers to the soothing and healing tone of our language.

In relation to Moshiach this refers to our need to bring an end to exile, our metaphysical illness. The Rebbe explains that the word for one who is ill is choleh, which has the numerical value of 49. In exile we are limited to 49 levels of holiness. The final and 50th level remains elusive. We, therefore, become terribly love-sick as we yearn to connect to G-d’s 50th level of understanding. For this ultimate step we must await the Messianic Age.

Our language must always reflect our profound need to be healed with the imminent coming of Moshiach. May it be so now!

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