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To Plant a Tree

He planted a tree. The Torah portion of Vayera relates the greatness of our forefather Abraham, the first Jew, who spread a message of G-dliness and taught all wayfarers to recognize and acknowledge the One true G-d. And what does the Torah tell us about Abraham, to depict his greatness? “And he planted a tree [Eishel] in Beersheba and called there in the name of G-d.”

The Midrash explains that the word eishel does not only refer to a tree that shelters those who seek shade under its leaves. An eishel is also an inn—the Hebrew acronym of achila, shtiya and lina – food, drink and a bed. Abraham set up an inn in Beersheba, in the heart of the desert.

Travelers through the desert are hungry, thirsty, exhausted from the sun that beats down on them relentlessly. Abraham, in his great compassion, thought about their needs and opened an inn to provide for them. They were strangers to him – he did not know who would be passing through from day to day. Yet he made the effort to set up this guest house for strangers to rest and refresh themselves.

Abraham provided his guests with all their needs. Not only bread and water to slake their hunger and thirst, but also luxuries – meat, wine, fruits and other delicacies, not to mention a bed to rest from their travels.

One might think that Abraham was merely a savvy businessman, who found an ideal location to set up an inn, where desperate, exhausted, hungry travelers would eagerly pay high prices for his luxurious accommodations. But Abraham charged his guests nothing! After they had eaten their fill and asked Abraham what they owed, he would reply that their pay was to thank G-d for the food they had eaten, because “The world and all that is in it belongs to G-d.”

After his inn had become well-established, Abraham also set up a Sanhedrin, a court of law. He appointed the wisest people of his generation to answer the questions of travelers and settle their disputes. Abraham was not only concerned with his guests’ physical needs, but with their spiritual needs as well.

Abraham bequeathed his attributes of generosity and loving-kindness to all his descendants, the Jewish people. We learn from Abraham not to provide only the bare necessities to needy people, but to give generously, to give them comforts and pleasures as well. Finally, we learn from Abraham that balm for the soul can be more important than physical comforts. Helping someone find a solution to their problem or settle their disputes is one of the highest forms of chesed that we can do. 

The tree that Abraham planted in the desert may be long gone – but each of us has the ability and responsibility to plant our own tree in a spiritual wasteland. It is not easy to be truly selfless in a world driven by competitiveness and mindless consumption. But we have these marvelous characteristics in us as an inheritance from Abraham, which will help us transform this world from a lonely, barren place to a warm, welcoming and inviting one, where G-d Himself will feel at home.

 

 


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