When Avraham views three guests approaching him through the scorching hot desert, he displays a superlative level of chesed, loving kindness. He runs to greet them, bows down, and begs them to come to his abode. Once there, he waits on them, serves them the greatest delicacies, and dashes about to make sure that their every need is met to the utmost. Indeed, he was paid back in kind, as the comforts that the Jewish people enjoyed in the desert—the ma’an, the Clouds of Glory, and the Well of Miriam—were due in part to the seeds of chesed planted by Avraham.
However, the Gemara notes that while the ma’an and clouds of glory were given without human intervention, the Well of Miriam needed to be activated by Moshe. Chazal explain that when Avraham served his guests water he did not do it directly but through an intermediary. Therefore, later, his children received water through an intermediary instead of through Hashem’s direct intervention. (It should be noted that, as with any perceived fault of our Avos, we have to understand that the “fault” in Avraham’s action is something extremely minute.)
There are several important lessons. Firstly, performance of a mitzva is not “all or nothing”; rather, there are gradations. Avraham performed his chesed par excellence and was justly rewarded. There was one aspect that he did not perform 100%—and therefore he was rewarded, but not 100%—but he was still rewarded! Even if we don’t score 100%, we have not failed. Even if our children do not follow through on our expectations 100%, we need to note the parts they did accomplish and celebrate those parts even as we make whatever corrections are necessary.
Secondly, as Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l points out, Hashem punished Avraham by having the well of Miriam be delivered through a messenger. But what a messenger! No less a personage than Moshe Rabbeinu, our greatest Rebbi! The water wasn’t provided as directly as it could have been and therefore it was a punishment, but the punishment was given with such compassion and mercy.
This is another critical lesson. Sometimes punishment is necessary. We need to be aware of when and how we have gone astray so we can strive to improve. The consequence can achieve its means while at the same time still giving over a message of love and caring. Just as Hashem delivered this consequence with the message given over in the most loving way possible, we too should strive to do the same with our children.
Have a great Shabbos,
Menachem Z. Weissmann
Menahel/Head of School