[Abraham] established an eshel (wayside inn) at Be’er Sheva; and he called there in the name of G-d, L-rd of the world
The Talmud explains that in addition to providing hospitality to desert wayfarers, Abraham’s inn also served as a center for bringing the truth of the One G-d to a pagan world. When Abraham’s guests wished to bless him for his generosity, he would say to them: “Has the food you have eaten been provided by myself? You should thank, praise and bless He who spoke the world into being!”
For those who nevertheless resisted acknowledging G-d as their creator and provider, Abraham employed a less amiable tactic. The Midrash relates how Abraham would then demand payment for the food they had eaten. “How much do I owe you?” the guest would ask. “A jug of wine is one fulrin,” Abraham would say; “a pound of meat, one fulrin; a loaf of bread, one fulrin.” When the guest would protest these exorbitant prices, Abraham would counter: “Who supplies you with wine in the middle of the desert? Who supplies you with meat in the desert? Who supplies you with bread in the desert?” “When the guest would realize the predicament he was in,” the Midrash concludes, he would relent and proclaim: “Blessed be the G-d of the world, from Whose providence we have eaten.”
But what value, we might ask, was there in such a unwilling proclamation, extracted under pressure? Was this not a mere mouthing of words, devoid of any conviction as to the truth of the One G-d or any desire to thank Him for His providence?
But Abraham had a vision of humanity which convinced him that every positive deed, word or thought does have value, no matter how “superficial” or “hypocritical” it might seem to a less discerning eye. When Abraham looked at his guests, he did not see pagans, idolaters and fetishists who “worshipped the dust of their feet”; he saw creatures of G-d, men and women who had been created in the divine image and who possessed a potential, inherent to the very essence of their being, to recognize their Creator and serve His will.
Most often, a kind word and a helping hand will bring to light this inner potential. At times, however, a soul might be so encrusted by negative influences and a corrupted character that a certain degree of “pressure” must be applied to quell its resistance to a G-dly deed. (Of course, any use of such “pressure” must conform to the dictates of G-d’s Torah, whose “ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its pathways are peace”—as in the case of Abraham’s fully legitimate demand for payment.)
Abraham understood that no human acknowledgment of G-d can ever be “hypocritical.” On the contrary: a pagan belief and behavior is the ultimate hypocrisy, for it is at variance with the person’s quintessential being and innermost will. When a creature of G-d proclaims “Blessed be the G-d of the world from Whose providence we have eaten,” nothing can be more consistent with his or her innermost self.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Sivan 2, 5730 (June 6, 1970).
. Talmud, Sotah 10a-b.
. Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 49:4; cited in Tosefot Shantz on Talmud, ibid.
. See Rashi on Genesis 18:4.
. Proverbs 3:17.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XV, pp. 122-128.