It is explained that often, leading by example is even better than training others. As they say, “If you want something done, then do it yourself!”
In this week’s Torah Portion, Vayeira (Genesis 18:1-22:24), three strangers come to Abraham as he recuperates from his circumcision. He runs to greet them. He gives them food and water and insists that they come into his tent where he can show them full hospitality. And indeed he does. He prepares for them a feast! (Keep in mind that the 100-year-old Abraham had circumcised himself just three days prior!)
The Talmud teaches that God deals with the Jewish people in the same way that Abraham had dealt with the three strangers, who were actually angels. One will notice from the verses of the Torah that some of the kindness that Abraham had bestowed upon the angels was done on his own, while other aspects he had delegated to his wife, servants and assistants. As such, anything Abraham had tended to on his own, for the sake of his guests, God Himself had matched for the sake of the Jewish people. And whatever Abraham had delegated to someone else for his guests, God had delegated something equivalent for the sake of the Jewish people as well.
For example, just as Abraham had personally served his guests bread and butter, God had personally sent the Jewish people manna from Heaven. Just as Abraham had escorted his guests on their way, God had escorted the Jewish people during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, and just as Abraham had sent a messenger to get water for his guests, God had sent water to the Jewish people by means of a messenger (i.e. a rock).
The commentators note that the Talmud treats Abraham somewhat critically for having delegated some of the hospitality-related tasks to his servant who, according to tradition, was actually his son Yishmael.
But what was so wrong with that? By asking the help of others, he accomplished even more for his guests. Furthermore, we are told that the reason he had delegated some of the tasks to Yishamel was in order to train him in the mitzvah (commandment) of hospitality!
What’s going on here?
It is explained that often, leading by example is even better than training others. As they say, “If you want something done, then do it yourself!” In this case, it could be suggested that if Abraham had wanted to show Yishamel how to perform hospitality, he should have simply taken care of whatever he could by himself, and Yishmael would have been inspired that way. There was no true need to get Yishamel involved in order to train him in the mitzvah of hospitality.
A Real-Life Example
This can be nicely illustrated by the following real-life example: A Jew once came to Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, the great Chafetz Chaim, complaining that his son wasn’t studying as seriously as he should, and the father could not understand why. He told the Chafetz Chaim that he was a good father who emphasized the importance of Torah. “I support rabbis, I support yeshivot (institutions of Torah study) and I support Torah! Why is my son not inspired to follow the path of Torah?” the father asked.
The Chafetz Chaim said, “It’s great to hear that you support institutions of Torah study, but do you yourself study Torah?”
The man explained, “Rabbi, I’m so busy these days….I just don’t have time to study.”
The Chafetz Chaim said, “There’s the answer to your dilemma. Your son is probably going to come out fine. He’s going to appreciate rabbis and support yeshivot, because he’ll get that from you. But if you want your son to study Torah, he has to see that in you as well!”
So there you have it. Sometimes, just sometimes, leading by example is the best way to inspire others.