Abraham's "Restaurant"


According to Jewish tradition, the following verse refers to one of the ways in which Abraham, our father, nurtured those in need:

"He planted an eshel in Beer-Sheba, and there he called out in the Name of the Compassionate One, God of the universe." (Genesis 21:33)

What is the "eshel" that Abraham planted? As Rashi explains, there are two sages of the Talmud, Rav and Shmuel, who differ in their interpretation of this term. One says that "eshel" is an orchard. Abraham planted this orchard in order to have fruits to give to his many guests. The other says that "eshel" refers to an inn for lodging which provided all sorts of fruits to nourish the guests. Abraham therefore "planted" a hospitality tent in order to nurture needy human beings. Rashi explains that the Hebrew term for "planting" is also used within biblical literature in reference to tents, and he cites the following example: "And he will plant the tents of his palace" (Daniel 11:45).

Through this eshel, Abraham provided free food to all travelers. In the following letter, we will discuss a story from the Midrash which reveals how Abraham became inspired to plant this eshel. According to this Midrash, eshel refers to an inn:

Abraham's "Restaurant":

Dear Friends,

The Midrash cites the following dialogue between Abraham, our father, and his ancestor, Shem, the son of Noah - who was also known as "Malki-Tzedek":

Malki-Tzedek and his family were in the ark during the great flood, and Abraham asked Malki-Tzedek: "By what merit were you able to leave the ark?"

Malki-Tzedek responded: "Through the merit of acts of tzedakah - helping the needy - that we performed in the ark."

Abraham then asked: "To whom did you give tzedakah? There were no poor people in the ark; there was only you and your family."

Malki-Tzedek replied: "All night, we were busy feeding the livestock, wild creatures, and birds; in fact, we were too busy to sleep!"

Abraham said to himself: "If they were able to leave the ark because of the tzedakah which they gave to livestock, wild creatures, and birds, then how much more would I accomplish if I performed acts of tzedakah for human beings who are created in the Divine image!" He then opened an inn for travelers (Genesis 21:33), and he provided them with free food and drink, as well as escort. (Yalkut Shimoni on Psalm 37)

Abraham realized that the greatest service he could do for the entire world is to nurture human beings who are created in the Divine image, for they have the potential to emulate the universal Divine nurturing. Abraham understood that through nurturing human beings, he would be nurturing the messengers of the Compassionate One who were given the sacred task "to serve and to protect" the world (Genesis 2:15).

According to the above Midrash, one of the ways he nurtured human beings was through opening an inn which also served as a free restaurant for travelers. Through the power of his example, he conveyed the message that human beings have both the capacity and the responsibility to emulate the ways of the Compassionate One. In this spirit, the Torah states:

"He planted an eshel in Beer-Sheba, and there he called out in the Name of the Compassionate One, God of the universe." (Genesis 21:33)

Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Hazon - Our Universal Vision