Parashat Vayera- Imposing Personal Stringencies Upon Others
**Schedule for this Shabbat, Parashat VaYera at Cong. Bet Yaakob with Rabbi Mansour in Brooklyn NY**
Friday Night, Oct. 26th, 2007
4:40 PM Daf Yomi
5:40 PM Minha
5:42 PM Candle Lighting
Saturday, Oct. 27th
7:00 AM Shaharit followed by Seudat Shabbat and Divre Torah
4:00 PM Daf Yomi with Rabbi Mansour
4:00 PM Class with Rabbi Escava
5:00 PM Minha Followed by Seudat Shelishit, Derasha, and Arbit
6:45 PM Havdallah
(Minha, Seuda, Derasha, and Arbit- In the basement catering hall of Har Lebanon.)
Parashat Vayera- Imposing Personal Stringencies Upon Others
The first section of Parashat Vayera tells of the three angels who arrived at Avraham's tent in the form of wayfarers. Avraham enthusiastically welcomed the guests and treated them to a lavish meal. The Sages teach that Avraham slaughtered three cows so that he could serve each of his guests a full tongue, and he provided them with mustard, as well.
Clearly, Avraham Avinu himself was not one to indulge in fine delicacies. He was undoubtedly a sacred man who subsisted on the minimum staples of food, and had little or no desire for luxury foods. Yet, when his guests arrived, he ensured to prepare and serve the very finest delicacies with proper condiments. Avraham never said to himself, "Well, I don’t need tongue with mustard, so why must I go through the trouble of preparing it for them?" He did not impose his higher spiritual standards on others; although he lived a life of piety and holiness and never indulged in delicacies, for his guests he made a point of bringing only the highest quality foods.
Avraham's sensitivity in this regard can be seen as well when he first greeted the guests and offered them "a little water" with which to rinse their feet ("Yukah Na Me'at Mayim" – 18:4). The obvious question arises, why did he offer to bring only "a little water"? Did he not have enough water to give them copious amounts? If he slaughtered three cows for them, couldn’t he have brought them large quantities of water?
The answer emerges from a closer examination of this phrase – "Yukah Na Me'at Mayim" – which literally means, "Let a little water be taken." Avraham could not bring the water himself; he summoned a servant to bring the water for the guests. Although he indeed wished to offer the guests large quantities of water, he felt he had no right to do so at the expense of his servant, who bore the responsibility of bringing the water. Once again, Avraham made a point of not imposing his strict standards on other people. He could strive for the highest standards of Hachnasat Orhim (extending hospitality to guests) only in the areas in which he was personally involved; he did not reserve the right to force others to accommodate his personal stringencies. Therefore, when it came to the water, he offered only small amounts, so as not to overburden his servant.
A similar story is told of Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant (1810-1883), who, like Avraham Avinu, ensured that his personal measures of stringencies would not come at the expense of others. His students once observed that when performing Netilat Yadayim (hand washing before eating bread), Rabbi Yisrael used the minimum amount of water required by Halacha. The widespread custom is to use large amounts of water for Netilat Yadayim, which is considered a means of earning wealth. Rabbi Yisrael, however, filled the cup only with the quantity required according to the strict Halacha, rather than use copious amounts as is the common practice. When asked why he used such small amounts, he explained that the water for Netilat Yadayim was brought by an elderly woman, who drew the water from the well and then carried it to the basin in the home. Rabbi Yisrael felt he had no right to be stringent with regard to Netilat Yadayim at the expense of this woman. If he had been drawing the water, then certainly, it would be laudable to perform the Misva at the highest standard. But observing additional stringencies at the expense of another person is simply unethical. Although observing stringencies is generally worthy of admiration and praise, it is wrong to act stringently on the back of somebody else.
On a different occasion, a wealthy man invited Rabbi Yisrael to his home Friday night, and, in an effort to win the Rabbi's consent, he described in great detail how beautiful and inspirational his Shabbat table was. At his table the family members and guests sang Zemirot (Shabbat hymns) and shared words of Torah well into the night, and ate several courses of the finest delicacies. The Rabbi accepted the invitation, but only on condition that the meal would not extend for longer than two hours. The wealthy host was surprised by this condition, but nevertheless agreed, figuring that once Rabbi Yisrael experienced the beauty of his Shabbat table, he would agree to stay beyond the two hours.
Sure enough, Rabbi Yisrael came to the man's home, and the meal was indeed as beautiful as the man described. However, once two hours passed, Rabbi Yisrael insisted on reciting Birkat Ha'mazon, and prepared to leave. He went to the kitchen to thank the woman who worked in the home for preparing and serving the meal, and apologized for the extra effort she had to exert on his behalf.
"You have nothing to apologize about," she replied. "To the contrary, you made this the easiest Friday night I've ever had here. Usually the family extends the meal into the late hours of the night, and I return home at 3:00 AM exhausted. Thanks to you, the meal is already finished and I can go home and enjoy a good night's sleep!"
Rabbi Yisrael turned to his host and said, "It's very nice to sing Zemirot and share words of Torah until late at night – but not if this causes hardship to your devoted homekeeper. Being sensitive to her needs and her comfort is far more important than a five-hour Shabbat meal."
As admirable as it is to accept personal stringencies, one must ensure that these practices never come at the expense of his responsibility towards others, and his sensitivity to their needs and well-being.