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Rabbi Zaltzman on Parashat Vayera

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(Pixabay photo)

Abraham is a real legend, a superhero who preceded the mythical ones born of human fantasy. The Torah relates anecdotes from Abraham’s life, from the fascinating to the incredibly mind-blowing. Some are recounted in the written Torah’s account of his life, but most exist in the form of oral history passed down from generation to generation.

Abraham was a man apart. He stared down the world’s prevailing beliefs, rebelled against the ways of his own people, survived a showdown with a vindictive ruler, tried to single-handedly spare a corrupt society and even fought a war (and decisively won) against a superpower.

Considering this, it seems somewhat pedestrian that one of the things the Torah relates about Abraham is that he planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba. But there are several interpretations of what this tree was and what it represents: an actual tree with broad, leafy branches to protect travellers from the desert sun’s scorching heat; an orchard to provide wayfarers with fruits to refresh themselves along the way; an inn where people could eat, drink and rest; or a court of law to settle disputes among travelling merchants.

Abraham did not content himself with providing the bare minimum of bread and water. He gave things that brought people pleasure and provided tools that enabled them to experience prosperity and develop their true potential. The ultimate way of giving is not to wait until someone is suffering, but to give in a generous and thoughtful way that helps them flourish.

And Abraham did all of this for absolute strangers who he would probably never meet again, and from whom he would likely receive no recognition for his kindness nor satisfaction from seeing it manifest.

Abraham was the one who established the path and values of Judaism. His example begs us to ask ourselves if we are living up to his way of giving – kindness that is generous in both body and spirit, seeking to uplift, rather than merely provide.