What is the proper path that a man should pursue?

Whatever is of intrinsic value to himself and also earns

him the esteem of his fellow men. [1]

Ethics of our Fathers (2:1)


If you had to choose between chatting with G-d Himself and conversing with a mere mortal, what would you do? Most people might say, “How could you possibly turn down a conversation with G-d?” Yet, Abraham’s actions demonstrate otherwise. In the midst of talking with G-d — “And G-d appeared to him in the Plains of Mamre” [2] Abraham noticed three travelers in idolater’s garb. [3] Faced with choosing between a prophetic revelation — the greatest joy imaginable on earth [4] — and an act of hospitality to idolaters, Abraham astonishingly asks G-d to please wait so he could tend to the travelers’ needs. [5]

What is most surprising about this incident is that G-d actually listens to Abraham and waits while Abraham scurries off to invite the travelers in, only to continue their prophetic conversation afterward. [6]

How could Abraham be so brazen as to leave G-d waiting? And why would G-d agree to this? Furthermore, the Torah is known for its conciseness; as a rule, it gives tenets or examples and leaves us to determine how to apply the principle to our life. [7] For instance, the Torah instructs

us to take care of our physical health. [8] It doesn’t tell us the details of brushing our teeth, what diet to follow, or how to exercise. But here, the Torah goes into great detail. We see how Abraham fussed over his guests. He washed their feet, [9] hurried to order cakes made of fine flour, [10] and ran to select a choice calf from his herd for their meal. [11] Why does the Torah, normally so concise, go into such detail with Abraham?

On the face of it, the Torah details Abraham’s hospitality to emphasize the importance of kindness and hospitality, declaring that an act of hospitality is greater than receiving the face of the Shechinah (G-d’s presence on earth). [12] Abraham was therefore right to interrupt his prophecy with G-d to tend to his guests. How can such a thing be true? Understanding this requires a radical reformulating of what we define as being spiritual.


[1] The translation is according to the Ran, Nedarim 23a.

[2] Genesis 18:1.

[3] Ibid., v. 2.

[4] Chochmah U’Mussar, Vol. 1, No. 155.

[5] Genesis 18:2–3: “And he (Abraham) said: ‘Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes, do not pass over (i.e., leave) your servant.’” See the Malbim on this verse. The word used here for G-d can also mean “my master,” in which case it can also refer to the leading of the three guests. 

[6] Genesis 18:22, as per Rashi.

[7] Ramban, Deuteronomy 6:18.

[8] Deuteronomy 4:9.

[9] Genesis 18:4.

[10] Ibid., v. 6.

[11] Ibid., v. 7. We will explore this in greater depth in Chapter 46.

[12] Tractate Shabbat 127a; Tractate Shevuot 35b.

Continue reading Imitating the Creator.

Read the previous essay, A Kabbalistic View of the World.

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Olami Resources is happy to present a series of free installments featuring Rabbi Avraham Edelstein’s important new book, The Human Challenge. This week’s essay is from Section One – A Purposeful Life

Rabbi Avraham Edelstein serves as the Education Director of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women and a senior advisor to Olami. Many of Rabbi Edelstein’s foundational publications addressing the world of Kiruv appear on OlamiResources.com.

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