The opening of this week's Torah reading tells how Abraham, in great pain on the third day after circumcising himself at the age of 99, nevertheless sat at the entrance to his tent and waited for travelers to arrive.

Three men came along, appearing as Arabs. Abraham ran to greet them, gave them water to wash their feet and some bread to eat, and then ran to prepare for them a great feast. (Gen. 18:2-8) The verse states that they ate even though angels are pure spiritual beings; our Sages say, "They [only] made it appear as if they were eating." (Midrash Bereishit Raba, Chapter 48)

In the last section of the parasha, there is the well known story of Akeidat Isaac (the binding of Isaac), which is one of the ten "tests" with which G‑d tested Abraham. He told Abraham, "bring up your son as an offering," (ibid. 22:2) and Abraham understood that meant he had to slaughter his beloved son, Isaac Only after Abraham bound Isaac hand and foot and took the knife to slaughter him did an angel speak to him from Heaven, saying, "Do not put forth your hand to this young man; do not do anything to him." (ibid. 22:12)

From these two stories, at the beginning and end of the parasha, we learn that the main accomplishment and benefit gained in the performance of a mitzvah is the actual effort itself, since even after the preparation of the feast by Abraham for the guests, in the end they did not eat because they were angels. Similarly, in the test of the Akeida, he did not slaughter his son in the end. Rather, the many arrangements and traveling and personal preparations [mentally, emotionally and spiritually] are considered as if the mitzvah had actually come to fruition.

This corresponds well to the teaching of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Ashlag when he explained the Mishna: "Rabbi Chananya Ben Akashya says, G‑d wanted to provide opportunities for Israel to achieve merit, therefore he gave them much Torah and Mitzvahs." (Makot, end of chap. 3) He explained that the word "lizakos," (to give opportunities for merit), can be interpreted as "lizakaich," (to give opportunities for self-refinement). Because a person is created with a desire to receive (pleasure) for himself, he can become distant and separate from the Creator, since He has only the desire to emanate; He does not have the desire to receive for Himself at all.

The role of the mitzvahs is to refine a person’s desire to receive, and to lead him to fulfill the mitzvahs from a desire to emanate (pleasure to G‑d). By so doing, the person can come closer to the Creator.

Therefore, even though a mitzvah may not have come to fruition, nevertheless, the main goal may still have been accomplished. This result comes through sincere effort and devotion, when the intent was a "desire to emanate and give."

The first episode, featuring hospitality, represents those mitzvahs which deal with issues between man and his fellow man. The Akeida exemplifies the mitzvahs between man and G‑d. Both types of mitzvahs have the same goal, to refine a person’s "desire to receive," and to acquire the attribute of "the desire to emanate." In this way a person is able to immediately receive spiritual emanation from G‑d.

Delivered orally; translated by David Devor from his notes and extensively edited by staff.

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