Parshas Vayera

In the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Vayera, God came to visit Abraham. In the middle of Abraham’s audience, he spotted three travelers from afar and excused himself to go greet them.

The Talmud (Shabbos, 127a) derives a tremendous lesson from the fact that Abraham excused himself in the middle of meeting with God to greet the people he saw: Greeting guests is even greater than greeting the presence of the Almighty! How do we begin to understand this? We can certainly understand that greeting guests is very honorable. But how can we understand such a deed to be considered a greater experience than being in the presence of the Almighty?

Rabbi Elazar Menachem Mann Shach offers the following explanation (Machsheves Mussar, Vol. 2 p. 400): The Torah commands us to cling to God (Deuteronomy, 13:5). How does one cling to God? Rashi explains that this is accomplished through clinging to the ways of God, such as performing acts of kindness as God does. Hence, as great as basking in the presence of God may be, greeting guests, which is an act of kindness, is an even greater form of clinging to God than merely basking in His presence!

Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (in Da’as Torah) expounds further on this topic and explains that as mortals on this physical planet, it is not our focus to be involved in experiences that belong to the higher spiritual spheres. In this world, true greatness is found in mundane physical actions. As great as it may be to experience a spiritual connection with God, that’s not where true greatness lies. True greatness in this world is experienced through the physical activities we do, as instructed by the Torah.

This concept can be difficult to adopt. At times, we may find ourselves tempted to prioritize an inspiring, spiritual experience, and view it as the ultimate uplifting object of pursuit, while we attribute less importance to simple deeds of going in God’s ways. It is natural to feel good about engaging in inspirational activities which are spiritually charged and make us feel holy. But when it comes to mundane activities of a physical nature, it is a lot harder to feel the true greatness that lies within them.


One year, the revered Rabbi Yisroel Salanter failed to make an appearance at the synagogue as the prayers of Yom Kippur commenced. Everyone was wondering what could have happened that would prevent their esteemed rabbi from attending the special prayers of this holy day on time. Their astonishment only grew as one hour passed after another without him joining them, and eventually, the prayers for the night had concluded without his presence.

Before long the mystery was resolved. The story emerged that the rabbi was on his way to the synagogue when he heard a baby crying uncontrollably. He entered the house and found a baby crying in his crib with a bottle of milk next to him and a young girl sleeping nearby. Apparently, the mother had gone to prayers, leaving her daughter to care for the infant, but the daughter had fallen asleep and did not hear the baby crying.

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter fed the baby his bottle, and then woke up the sister, with the intention of leaving her to babysit while he headed back on his way to the synagogue. But when he woke the girl up, she told him she was scared to be left alone and asked him to stay with her. And that’s exactly what he did. He stayed with her until the prayers were over and the parents returned.

One might think that Rabbi Yisroel Slanter would feel upset about missing out on the elevating prayers of Yom Kippur night in the synagogue. On the contrary, he exhibited much joy over the fact that he was able to perform these simple deeds of kindness on this holy night, in spite of the fact that it was at the expense of missing out in joining his congregation for the intense prayers of Yom Kippur night.

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter understood that true greatness lies in clinging to God by following His ways, and this surpasses the most spiritually uplifting experience one can have in this world. It is too often that we overlook this concept. It’s a matter of reframing our mindset. We have to remember that this world is not about feeling holy. If we seek a truly elevating experience of connecting to God, we need not look far. Performing a simple act of kindness or otherwise practicing the virtues of God can achieve unimaginable closeness to God. We should keep in mind that an act of following in God’s ways is even greater than basking in God’s presence.

Parshas Vayera by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (

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