Parsha Encounters



Parshas Vayera:

"But What Will the Neighbors Say??"

Rabbi Chaim Ehrman

Parsha Vayera

"But What Will the Neighbors Say??"

Rabbi Chaim Ehrman

Our sages tell us that when Hashem appeared to Avrohom, it was at "Eylonai Mamreh," the Plains of Mamreh (the Midrash translates this as the palace of Mamreh). This was a reward to Mamreh because he encouraged Avrohom to perform the mitzvah of Bris Milah.

The Midrash explains that Avrohom consulted with his three friends whether he should perform the Milah, or circumcision. Anair said, "Avrohom, you are 99 years old. It's a very painful procedure for young infants, certainly for someone in your age bracket. Let others do the Milah." Eshkol said, "Avrohom, you have no children from Sarah. Hashem promised you children from Sarah. You may make a slight error when performing the Milah and it will be impossible for you to have a child." Mamreh said, "Avrohom, Hashem has performed miracles for you. He saved you from a fiery furnace into which Nimrod threw you, He saved you in a war against four mighty kings who conquered the civilized world, and He will save you from the perils and dangers of performing the Bris Milah." Avrohom followed the advice of Mamreh and performed the Bris Milah.

The obvious question asked is, how could Avrohom waver in the fulfillment of the mitzvah of Bris Milah?

Hashem had commanded Avrohom to leave his family, his birthplace and his home to go "to a land that I will show you," and Avrohom went, with no questioning! Our sages tell us that Avrohom Aveinu kept the entire Torah, all 613 mitzvos and all mitzvos of the Rabanan, including Eruv Tavshilin. What was the reason Avrohom Avinu asked his friends whether he should perform the mitzvah of Milah?

The Shaarei Aharon provides unique insight into how to understand this problem. There certainly was never any doubt on the part of Avrohom Avinu as to whether he should go and fulfill the mitzvah of Milah. Since Hashem commanded him to fulfill the mitzvah, it was a "given" that it would be performed.

Avrohom Avinu had a different problem. His concern was how to go about performing the mitzvah. Should it be in a hidden place, where no one would know about it, or should it be performed "Befarhesya," in public, to let the world know about the mitzvah that he was doing? He could even make a seuda, a party, in honor of fulfilling Hashem's commandment.

Anair and Eshkol advised Avrohom that he should do the mitzvah quietly, between himself and Hashem. If neighbors and friends would hear about the mitzvah of Mila that Avrohom was performing, they would know that he was in great pain. (There was no anesthesia in those days, and the Izmal, or Milah knife, was not sterilized, which led to a risk of infection.) Keeping this fact in mind, the thought process of Anair and Eshkol was as follows: There was a war waged against the four mighty kings in which Avrohom Aveinu emerged victorious. When word would get out that Avrohom performed the circumcision on himself, everyone would know that he was extremely weak, and the relatives of the victims of the war would join forces and attack Avrohom to avenge the wartime deaths of their families. Mamreh said that although there was a danger of repercussions from publicizing performance of the Milah, the Mitzvah of Milah is so great that Hashem would protect Avrohom from any potential fallout from fulfilling the mitzvah. Hashem performed miracles for Avrohom in the past, he said, and He would do so in the future. Avrohom followed Mamreh's approach and made public the mitzvah that he did. He made a feast and invited everyone to attend to participate in the Seudas Mitzvah of performing the Bris Milah.

This Midrash gives us insight in terms of our assessment of fulfilling the mitzvos of Hashem. A common feeling in response to the need to perform a mitzvah that is not "politically correct" is, "What will our neighbors say???" When Jewish immigrants came to this country from Eastern Europe, they wanted to be "Americanized." The first thing that came off was the beard and payos for men and shaitels for women. The yarmulka and "tzitzis outside" were also dropped.

The way Avrohom Avinu performed the Bris Milah should teach us that we should be proud fulfilling the Mitvos of Hashem. There is no need to be "closet Yiddin." When the Satmar Rebbe came to Williamsburg, he wore his chassidic mode of dress. When Friday afternoon approached, people told the Rebbe, "You cannot wear a shtreimel in the street. In America, no one wears a shtreimel in a public place." The Rebbe looked at his Gabbai, Rav Ashkenazi, put on his shtreimel, and said, "Come, let's go to Daven." Today, it is not uncommon to wear a shtreimel in the street, especially in Boro Park or Williamsburg. May we learn to emulate the ways of Avrohom Avinu, just as the Satmar Rebbe showed us.

Rabbi Ehrman is the Rav of Congregation Bais Yitzchok and learns second seder daily with the kollel.

Halacha Encounters

Hachnosas Orchim -

Having Guests According to the Halacha

Rabbi Avi Weinrib

In this week's Torah portion we are told of the extraordinary hospitality or our patriarch, Avraham. Despite being in great pain following his circumcision, Avraham nevertheless actually goes out searching for guests and then, upon finding them, serves them himself. The Chofetz Chaim [Ahavas Chesed 3:2] points out that the reason the Torah uncharacteristically elaborates on this event is to teach us the great importance of the mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim [inviting in guests]. The Meiri [Shabbos 127a] actually writes that this mitzvah is the greatest of all the mitzvos. The Talmud [Chagigah 27a] tells us that when the Temple stood, the alter [through sacrifices] would atone for one's sins, but now - in the tragic absence of the Beis Hamikdash - one's table has this ability. Rashi explained that "one's table" is referring to the guests one serves. In this week's Halacha Encounters we will discuss some of the details of this great mitzvah.

Who is Considered a Guest?

The Rema [O.H.333] defines a guest as one who is either sleeping over in the host's home or sleeping at a friend's house but eating at the host's home. A friend who is invited over for social reasons does not have the halachic status of a guest. Rav Yosef Lerner shlita in Sefer Habayis [Chapter 33 note 11] adds that if one invites over a friend whose spouse is out of town, or invites a family whose home is under construction, these people would also be considered "guests." HaRav Dovid Zucker shlita added that if one would invite over a newcomer to town in order to welcome him, he too would be included in the halachic category of "guest."

Overriding Learning Torah or Prayer

If one is on the way out to learn Torah and a guest arrives, should he take care of the guest's needs and miss his own study session? The answer to this question would also apply to a person on the way to pray with a minyan [quorum]. The Chofetz Chaim [Ahavas Chesed 3:1] writes that one should rather take care of his guest unless there is someone else who can also take care of him properly. If the guest is an important person, in all cases one should tend to him personally. HaGaon Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l [Halichos Shlomo Chapter 5 Footnote 25] writes similarly regarding prayer, that if the guest is not in a rush and will not feel bad if the host leaves, then the host should rather go pray. But if the guest would feel slighted, the host should rather tend to the needs of his guest. Rav Shlomo Zalman points out that this is all assuming that the person fits into the halachic guidelines of a guest as explained above. He also adds that the mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim would not override any law in Shulchan Aruch. For example, one who has already said Baruch She'amar in Shacharis is not allowed to interrupt his tefillos. This would apply even if he wanted to greet a guest at that point in the tefillah.


Payment for Guests

Does a person fulfill the mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim if he is being paid for it? There is a discussion in the Poskim regarding paying or accepting pay for a hotel stay on Shabbos. The issue surrounds the halacha that one is not allowed to pay for or accept payment for work or services done on Shabbos. The Maharsham writes [O.H. 306-4] that perhaps since Hachnosas Orchim is a mitzvah, it would be permitted to pay or accept payment, as found in similar cases of other mitzvos. The poskim infer from here that the Maharsham would hold that even if one accepts payment, he would still fulfill this mitzvah. HaGaon Rav Moshe Shternbuch shlita [Teshuvos V'Hanhagos Volume 2:197] strongly disagrees and is of the opinion that if one accepts money, he would not fulfill the mitzvah of Hachnosas Orchim. The Magen Avrohom [O.H. 38:8] rules that if one's main intent was to fulfill the mitzvah, and the payment was secondary, then he would have fulfilled the mitzvah. The Biur Halachah extends this even further, saying that even if a person's intentions were equally weighted, that would be sufficient to fulfill the mitzvah.

Additional Laws

      If a loss or any damage will result from hosting a particular guest one would not be obligated to host him [Orech Maisharim 17-2].

      Even though Hachnosas Orchim applies as equally to one who is wealthy as to one who is not, when inviting a destitute person one additionally fulfills the mitzvah of Tzedakah [charity]. The Chofetz Chaim writes that this is contrary to the way many approach this mitzvah. He says that people look forward to, and are happy hosting guest who are financially well off, but shy away from guests who are truly lacking.

      Even if one has household help he should tend to the guest himself.

      The Sefer Chasidim [Siman 312] writes that one should not ask his guest for a D'var Torah [Torah thought] unless the host is sure his guest would have something to say, in order not to embarrass him. The Chesed L'Avrohom [Siman 8-15] adds that if one's guest is sharing a Torah thought, one should not argue or prove him wrong since this would cause the guest great pain.

Taking Leave of One's Guest

      Before one's guest leaves, the host should prepare him food for the way [Shelah, Pesachim, Ner Mitzvah O.H. Gemilus].

      One is required to accompany his guest when he departs. The custom is to accompany him 4 amos [approx. 6-8 feet]. There is a dispute in the Poskim as to whether this applies only when the guest is leaving alone, or even when he is leaving together with others [see Aruch Hashulchan C.M. 426-2 Teshuvos Betzail Chochma Volume 4-34].



Rabbi Weinrib is a full-time member of the Chicago Community Kollel.



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