The Chesed of Nations is a Sin
הרב זכריה טובי
Avraham Avinu, the founding father of our nation, established chesed as the cornerstone upon which the world is built: "The world will be built through chesed." (Tehillim 89:3) The paradigm example of Avraham's chesed is found in the beginning of this week's parsha: "He was sitting at the entrance to the tent at the heat of the day." (Bereishit 18:1) Chazal teach: "G-d took the sun out of its covering so as not to burden [Avraham] with guests, but when He saw him upset that there were no guests, He brought angels in the form of people. (Rashi)
The first chesed of Avraham Avinu is that of hachnasat orchim (hospitality), about which Chazal say, "Hachnasat orchim is greater than greeting the Divine Presence." (Yalkut Shimoni I:82) Yet, when the Torah gives an example of chesed, why does it bring an example of "apparent" chesed? The guests that reached Avraham were angels who do not need hospitality, and just made themselves as if they were eating and drinking. In practice, though, Avraham did not do with them any chesed. Why did the Torah see fit to present as Avraham's initial act of chesed an example of chesed that is not real? Is there any lack of actual acts of chesed of Avraham Avinu, from which we can learn for generations what chesed is?!
The Gemara relates about the hachnasat orchim in our parsha (Bava Metzia 86b):
That day was the third day of the circumcision of Avraham. G-d took the sun out of its covering so as not to burden that righteous one with guests. [Avraham] sent Eliezer to go outside; he went out and did not find [any guests]. [Avraham] said, "I don't trust you." This is what they say there, "There is no trust in slaves."
This passage is extremely puzzling. Eliezer was Avraham's faithful slave, about whom the Torah testifies that he was the elder of his entire household and controlled everything of his. Chazal teach that he would deliver of his master's Torah to others. How could Avraham say about him: I don't believe that there aren't guests outside, and this is what they say there is no trust in slaves?!
In order to explain this, we need to understand the nature of Avraham Avinu's chesed. King Shlomo says, "Charity will uplift a nation, but the kindness of nations is a sin." (Mishlei 14:34) The charity that Am Yisrael does uplifts it, but the kindness of the other nations is a sin. Why?
"Chesed" in Judaism does not flow just from mercy and compassion for the other, but from desire to benefit and help another. "Chesed" - doing good, is a goal to itself, because it is an expression of going in the way of Hashem, as Chazal say: "Just as he is merciful, you also be merciful; just as He does kindness, you also do kindness." (cf. Shabbat 133b) Through doing kindness, a person connects to his Creator, and therefore there is a natural, inner desire, to do kindness with others. Thus, Avraham Avinu seeks to do chesed even though there were no guests outside; he aspires to express his inner desire to go in the way of Hashem. This kind of chesed is only in Judaism. However, the nations of the world who do kindness do so only because of a feeling of compassion and mercy to help the other, and about this it says, "the kindness of nations is a sin" - this is not ideal and complete chesed.
We now understand Chazal's comment above. Eliezer, who was a slave, goes out and does not see guests. He understands that if there are no guests there is no need for kindness. About this Avraham says, "There is no trust in slaves" - you do no understand what Avraham's chesed is! My chesed needs to be done out of an inner desire; one needs to search for hachnasat orchim. In contrast, your chesed does not flow from faith, but from mercy, and thus is not complete chesed.
Based on this we understand why the Torah specifically gives this kind of chesed as an example, where in practice no good was done. This is because the Torah wants to teach us what "true chesed" is - chesed that comes from a person's inner desire to do kindness and not out of mercy for the person who requires chesed.
This principle is further evident from what Chazal say: "More than what the donor does with the poor person; the poor person does with the donor." (Ruth Rabbah ch. 5) Chazal taught that the poor person is not the goal but the means. The goal is that a person does chesed to draw close to G-d and perfect himself. Therefore, a person who does kindness and gives tzedaka does good not only to others, but, more so, does good with himself, and about this it says, "A man of kindness brings good upon himself." (Mishlei 11:17)
קוד השיעור: 3582
(Translated by Rav Meir Orlian)