“I wished to speak with G-d, yet I am but dust and ashes”
Abraham (Genesis 18:27)
The hospitality of Abraham is legendary, and an important part of his legacy to the Jewish people. One of the three signs which distinguish the Jewish character is a charitable and giving nature. To turn away a fellow in need is the most un-Jewish of acts.
Yet generosity may stem from two different and opposite traits. A feeling of self-importance often leads a person to give, for ego feeds and thrives on the dependence of others on oneself. On the other hand, extreme humility causes a person to feel that he is unworthy of what he possesses, that he is surely no more deserving of the piece of bread on his table than is the pauper on the street. Thus, the most generous of philanthropists are either the possessors of a mega-ego or those devoid of all self-consideration.
The charity of Abraham was free of the slightest traces of self-fulfillment and self-enhancement. In Genesis 18 the Torah relates how G-d appeared to Abraham. In the midst of this tremendous experience Abraham notices three wayfarers, dressed as pagan tribesmen, crossing the desert. “Excuse me G-d,” says Abraham, and dashes off to invite them in and to attend to their needs. So great was the humility of Abraham, that he saw their material needs as more important than his loftiest spiritual attainments. As he saw it, he had no right to enjoy the presence of G-d when a fellow human being was in need of food and shelter.
From the Rebbe’s talks, Tammuz 7 5740 (June 21 1980)and Tammuz 2 5741 (July 4 1981)