The Torah portion of Vayeira begins by relating that G‑d appeared to Avraham at the entrance of his tent. But when Avraham observed three strangers standing nearby, he got up, asked G‑d to wait, and ran to greet the strangers and offer them hospitality.1

Thus, for the sake of hospitality to strangers, Avraham left G‑d waiting. Indeed, our Sages glean from Avraham’s conduct that “Hospitality to wayfarers is even greater than receiving the Divine Presence.”2

Such hospitable behavior has become an integral part of Jewish conduct — another example of the abovementioned pattern described by our Rabbis.

Yet Avraham himself had no such commandment. What led him to feel that it was proper to forsake G‑d for the sake of strangers?

Kindness toward others can be motivated by either magnanimity or humility:3

An example of the former would be the favor shown by a great king or wealthy individual. Their feelings of self-worth and importance lead them to act in a generous and benevolent manner, “showering beneficence on all.”

An example of kindness that results from humility is the charity exhibited by Avraham, who said of himself: “I am mere earth and ashes.”4 Because he felt himself to be less significant than all others, he felt it natural to extend kindness and honor to all.5

Kindness that results from such self-effacement is superior to that which emanates from magnanimity in two important ways:

Kindness that comes from the feeling that everyone else is more worthy will cause an individual to give everything away to others, sustaining himself on their leavings. But kindness that stems from magnanimity will see the giver keeping the lion’s share for himself, giving only the leavings to others.

Moreover, magnanimous kindness is only extended when the benefactor will not suffer from his own generosity. Self-effacing kindness, on the other hand, will inspire a person to give even when doing so causes him suffering and deprivation.

Because Avraham’s kindness and hospitality stemmed from humility and self-effacement, he not only placed his physical life in jeopardy by battling mighty kings to save the lives of others,6 but was even prepared to put his spiritual life in jeopardy — something much more important to him than his physical life.

This superior brand of kindness is what motivated Avraham to leave G‑d waiting while he went to greet passing strangers.

The above sheds light on a saying of our Sages, who note7 that: “In the merit of our father Avraham saying ‘I am mere earth and ashes,’ his children merited the commandments of the ashes of the Red Heifer and the earth of Sotah [used in the ritual of examining a suspected adulteress].”

It is axiomatic that “G‑d rewards measure for measure.”8 Aside from the innocuous connection of the words “earth” and “ashes,” what inner relationship exists between Avraham’s statement and the two abovementioned commandments?

The connection is as follows: the performance of both these commandments is bound up with the humility and spiritual self-sacrifice that come from the awareness that one is “mere earth and ashes.”

The ashes of the Red Heifer, used to purify individuals defiled by contact with the dead, caused some of those involved in its preparation to themselves become mildly defiled.9 Thus, purifying an individual with the ashes of a Red Heifer necessitated a spiritual self-sacrifice upon the part of those who did the purifying.

The ashes of Sotah were also used in a ceremony that necessitated spiritual self-sacrifice, for the ritual required the erasing of the Divine Name. For the sake of bringing peace between husband and wife, the Torah indicates that G‑d’s name may be erased10 — an act of self-sacrifice that echoes the kindness of Avraham.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXV, pp. 79-83.