VAYEIRA (Genesis, 18:1‑22:24) — “Not Now, G-d, I’m Busy . . . I’ll Talk to You Later!”

Imagine the scene. You have been selected for a visit from the President of the United States. The most powerful man on the planet is coming to speak with you. He arrives. He comes into your home and asks you how you are doing. During the conversation you happen to glance over the President’s shoulder and notice three homeless vagrants walking up the path toward your front door.

How embarrassing! What should you do? You come up with a solution:

“Forgive me, Mr. President. I have something to take care of. Make yourself at home. I’ll be back soon.”

You then proceed to run to your itinerant guests, waiting on them hand and foot while the President cools his heels and leafs through your wedding album.

You give them your best food to eat and your finest cigars to smoke. All the while, the President stands there incredulously, flabbergasted by your audacious and outrageous behavior.

Pretty bizarre, right? Unheard of, right? Not at all! We’re talking about Abraham!!

G-d appeared to him in the Plains of Mamre, as he sat in front of his tent in the heat of the day. (Genesis, 18:1)

Abraham was a 99-year-old man, recovering from surgery. (Circumcision) G-d was performing the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim, visiting the sick.

Not a flesh-and-blood head of state. A visit from the King of Kings! A spirit of prophecy rested upon Abraham. He was in intimate contact with the Master of the World! 

He lifted his eyes and saw three men . . . he ran from the front of his tent to greet them, bowing down to the ground. (verse 2)

But wait. Mustn’t forget about Guest #1! He said, “If I find favor in Your eyes, G-d, please don’t turn away from your servant.” (verse 3) (In other words, “Forgive me, ‘Mr. President.’ I have something to take care of. Make yourself at home. I’ll be back soon.”)

Back to Guests #2, 3, and 4: “…Let’s get some water so you can wash . . . we’ll get some bread . . . ” (Verses 4 and 5)

By the end of the visit, he had provided them with milk, cream, and (separately, of course) fresh beef. They blessed him and continued on their way, leaving Abraham to continue his long-delayed conversation with the Almighty.

Is this proper?! How could he have done such a thing?!

How could Abraham have been so insolent as to put G-d “on hold” so he could deal with three strangers? Granted, it’s very nice to welcome guests into your home, but where were Abraham’s priorities?

To fully understand the story, we have to back up just a bit. What was Abraham doing sitting in his doorway in the first place? If he was recovering from his Bris, he should have been in bed! What is the significance of, “as he sat in front of his tent in the heat of the day“? What has the temperature to do with it?

The Talmud (Bava Metzia, 86a) fills in some pieces of the puzzle. It was an unusually hot day. G-d had made it hot so that travelers would stay off the roads. Abraham used to look for guests. G-d has “built a world of Chessed — kindness.” (Psalms, 89:3) He created us FOR THE EXPRESS PURPOSE of being kind to each other. Abraham felt obligated to try to find someone who could benefit from his kindness and hospitality. By keeping the roads clear of travelers, G-d ensured that Abraham would get some much-needed rest. But it wasn’t to be.

Abraham was distressed. How could the world exist without the opportunity to perform acts of kindness? He sent his servant Eliezer out to find guests. Eliezer returned empty-handed. Abraham couldn’t believe it! It couldn’t be! He had to look for himself.

Once G-d saw how pained Abraham was over his lack of guests, He dispatched three angels in the guise of men. Now Abraham would be able to do Mitzvahs!

Now Abraham was in his element. In spite of his age, in spite of his wounds, he RAN to assist his guests. He doted over them and saw to it that they were comfortable and well fed. And G-d waited. He waited for Abraham to finish. He wasn’t insulted by being ignored. BECAUSE HE WASN’T BEING IGNORED!!

The Talmud observes, based upon this passage, that “Hachnosas Orchim, welcoming guests, is a greater Mitzvah than greeting the Presence of G-d.” Chessed, kindness, is one of the pillars that support the world. We serve G-d by caring for His children. Abraham didn’t realize that these men were angels. He thought they were fellow human beings in need of assistance. He saw them as a vehicle to get closer to G-d. He saw an opportunity to bring THEM closer to G-d. Abraham wasn’t ignoring G-d; he was SERVING Him!

Prophecy is nice. Dialogue with G-d is an opportunity that is reserved for the privileged few. But it doesn’t come close to the Mitzvah of helping others. If we find that surprising, it is only because we don’t understand how important that Mitzvah is.

Let’s look for a moment at the practical ramifications of this concept.  My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Chait, (For information about my Rebbe, of Blessed Memory, click here and here.) dean of the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem, made the following observation: Let us say one is Davening, reciting prayers. The Amidah (literally, “Standing,”) is a prayer that is recited in silent devotion, with one’s feet together, in total silence and deep concentration. What if a poor person walks by? Should I put down my prayer book and run to that person to help him? After all, as we said above, kindness is greater than talking to G-d! It would seem, based on the above, that we should interrupt our prayers to take care of others.

And yet, the rule is that we do NOT interrupt our prayers to give charity, etc. Why not? Why do we not allow the Mitzvah of Chessed to supersede the Mitzvah of prayer? Isn’t it greater?

The answer, said my teacher, is that we are so far removed from fully understanding Torah values, that our Chessed is not true Chessed and our praying is not true praying. We are, unfortunately, not sufficiently sensitive to the sacred task that is expected of us. We simply don’t appreciate how many opportunities we have to be holy.

The next time someone needs a favor, stop and think. Do I want to go about my business, too busy to be bothered by someone else’s petty, mundane needs?

Or would I rather be holy?

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.



“Sodom & Gomorrah… and Sandy” (2012)

It is easy to look at the pictures of the devastation and be reminded of this week’s Torah Portion’s story of the overturning of Sodom and Gomorrah.  After G-d was finished raining destruction on those cities, there was nothing left.  The Torah tells us that before the destruction, Sodom was a green and lush paradise.  After the destruction, it was a barren desert.

No doubt, there will be some who will glibly attribute the hurricane to …

Read more.


 “A Prayer and an Opportunity” (2010)

… We, the People of Israel are a compassionate People.  We try to take care of our own.  And there they are, at synagogues and cemeteries, jingling change in their hands, and calling out, “Tzedokah, Tzedokah.” (Loosely – and incorrectly – translated as “Charity, Charity.”)

… It can be very disturbing.  It can even be annoying.  And this is what led to my dilemma two years ago.

I was praying at Rachel’s Tomb.  I had many things to pray for.  I was standing there, at that holy site, pouring out my heart to G-d.  I was reciting Psalms with a fervor that is difficult to match in other places.  I felt close to our Father in Heaven.

Then it happened.  A hand was thrust into my face, with a quick description of a difficult situation of an impoverished family… taking advantage of the opportunity to pray in this holy place.  I was inspired.  I was uplifted.  And this charity collector burst into my conversation with G-d and totally destroyed my concentration.  How dare he?!!

…Who was right, I pondered; the collector or me?… 

Read more.


“Immaculate Deception?” (2009)

The world was a desolate place. Sodom  and Gomorrah had just been destroyed.  They were such dens of iniquity that G-d would no longer tolerate their existence.

But He didn’t destroy everyone…

Lot  and his two surviving daughters hid in a cave… They assumed, after the massive destruction they had just survived, that the entire human race had been wiped out… Lot’s daughters had to make a difficult decision…

Lot  now had two illegitimate sons/grandsons, who were the fathers of two nations who would, some day, be a source of problems to their cousins the Israelites.

They were illegitimate.  But why advertise it? …

Read more.


 “Girl Talk?” (2007) 

Yose ben Yochanan says: “… don’t engage in too much conversation with the woman.” This was said about one’s own wife; all the more so does it apply to another’s wife.… the Sages said: “anyone who engages in too much conversation with women causes evil to himself, neglects Torah study, and will eventually inherit Gehinnom.  (The Hebrew term for … a very hot place!!)”

Not very politically correct!

This is, to say the very least, very difficult to understand.  The part about overdoing conversation with someone else’s wife is understandable.  Human nature being what it is, it is certainly wise for men and women who are not married to each other to set parameters as to how much friendly conversation is appropriate.  But what’s wrong with talking to your wife?…

Read more.


 “What’s So Funny?”  (2006) 

… Two people hear the same prophecy.  Abraham laughs, and G-d says nothing.  Sarah laughs, and is criticized by G-d.  What’s the difference?  If Sarah is criticized for doubting the truth of the prediction, why isn’t Abraham?…

Read more.


 “Would Abraham Give Candy to Trick-or-Treaters?” (2005) 

… You are a Sabbath-observing Jew.  You are taking a Shabbos afternoon stroll when a car pulls up next to you.  The driver, also Jewish, asks you for directions.  What do you do?…

What do you do?  Good manners would dictate that you politely tell the driver how to reach his destination.  Jewish Law, however, dictates that you may not assist another Jew in violating Jewish Law.   Should you say you don’t know how to get there?  You’re not allowed to lie.  What do you do??!!! …

Read more.


“The Most Powerful Force on Earth” (2003) 

…Lot… moved to Sodom  to get away from his uncle Abraham.  He didn’t want to live near his uncle; Abraham was too . . . “religious.” …Lot …seems to have preferred the decadent lifestyle of his neighbors over the restrictive morals of his uncle’s home.  Given the choice of Jerusalem  vs. San Francisco, Lot  chose ‘Frisco! …

Read more.


“Not Now, G-d, I’m Busy . . . I’ll Talk to You Later!” (2002) 

… You have been selected for a visit from the President of the United States…

“Forgive me, Mr. President. I have something to take care of.  Make yourself at home.  I’ll be back soon.”

You then proceed to run to your itinerant guests, waiting on them hand and foot while the President cools his heels and leafs through your wedding album.

You give them your best food to eat and your finest cigars to smoke.  All the while, the President stands there incredulously, flabbergasted by your audacious and outrageous behavior…

Read more.


“Could the Twin Towers Have Been Saved?” (2001)

… At the risk of being controversial (who, me?) and politically incorrect, I would like to suggest that there seems to be Biblical precedent for the profiling of Arabs, expecting the worst.  After all, our cousins the Ishmaelites have been at war with us for thousands of years…

Read more .


“Under the Influence of Dregs” (2000) 

… Sarah … was afraid that he would exert a negative influence over her son Isaac, whom G-d had designated as Abraham’s successor. “Send this maid and her son away, because this maid’s son will NOT share the inheritance with my son Isaac!”

Abraham was distressed by his wife’s suggestion. “My son Ishmael?” he must have asked. “How can I send him away? Who will teach him the right way to live if not I?”

Abraham lost the argument…

Read more.


This is the weekly message at Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on October 25, 2002 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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