Vayeira 5773 – How to be Spiritual

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Our Sages tell us that Parashat Vayeira happened three days after Avraham circumcised himself. He was recovering from the circumcision and God appeared to him.

At this same time Avraham suddenly had more guests (Judaica Press translation):

Bereshit 18:2 And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground.

Though Avraham did not know it immediately, these three new visitors were angels.

Angels are Higher

The basic idea that I’m about to share with you I first heard from my chevruta, Rabbi Joel Cohen.

We read in the verse quoted above, that the angels “were standing beside him.” A quick look at the Hebrew reveals that a more literal translation is “were standing over him.”

This makes good sense. Angels are totally spiritual beings and always perform God’s will.

People are a combination of the physical and the spiritual. You may have noticed that some people, at times anyway, have trouble doing the right thing.

The Book of Genesis answers some fundamental questions of human existence: Who are we? Why are we here? What does God want from us? Genesis: From Creation To Covenant

Avraham is Higher

So, now look at this verse:

Bereshit 18:8 And he took cream and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and he placed [them] before them, and he was standing over them under the tree, and they ate.

The verse clearly states that now Avraham is standing over the angels.

What changed from verse 2 until verse 8?

We read that Avraham invited the angels in, ran around, told people to do some things, and served them a meal.

Avraham performed the simple act of hospitality.

He shared with these angels his time and his possessions, all without having been forced to do so.

He did it only because he saw some people who needed something that he could provide.

Twerski on Spirituality

True Spirituality

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski writes in the introduction to his book Twerski on Spirituality:

Let me state first what Jewish spirituality is not. Spirituality is not withdrawing from society and isolating oneself as a recluse, eating a bare minimum to remain alive and sleeping on the ground, spending the entire day in prayer and meditation.

Rabbi Twerski then lists and explains a number of traits that are uniquely human. A human being has the capacity to:

  • learn from the past
  • think about the goal and purpose of one’s existence
  • volitionally improve himself
  • delay gratification
  • reflect on the consequences of one’s actions
  • control anger
  • forgive
  • make free choices

He concludes:

Man may or may not put these capacities to use. … Spirituality is thus nothing more than the implementation of these capacities, hence spirituality can be seen as being synonymous with humanity.

When Avraham acted according to his humanity he elevated himself above the angels.

The Book of Genesis answers some fundamental questions of human existence: Who are we? Why are we here? What does God want from us? Genesis: From Creation To Covenant

5 thoughts on “Vayeira 5773 – How to be Spiritual”

  1. With all due respect to Rav Twerski (and you), he seems to lack some understanding of animal behavior. The statement, “Humans do x and there is no (non-human) animal who does x” is a very broad one. A single species which exhibits behavior x disproves it. So if a dog can delay gratification (as I have seen dogs trained to do), then it is not humanity alone that delays gratification. (Afterall, humans too must be trained to delay gratification and are not born knowing how to do it). Similarly, the entire school of behaviorism suggest that animals can in fact learn from the past & improve themselves.

    • Hi Ze’ev. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

      I’ve also seen the tricks where a dog has been trained not to eat a cookie for 30 seconds while it’s balanced on his nose. I don’t think I would call that “delayed gratification.” It’s a trick. Will the dog without being commanded ever reason within itself, “Hey that’s a cookie. I could eat it now. But, I’ll wait. By waiting I’ll become a better dog.”?

      As you point out, humans are not born knowing how to delay gratification. We had a 2 year old at out Shabbat table recently. The kid wanted it all NOW.

      I have no doubt that he will mature and learn that he can’t have everything NOW. However, unlike the pup, he won’t have to be trained and commanded as he faces unique situations. Eventually, he will be able to reason within himself and decide in certain circumstances that waiting is better than acting now.

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