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See this thread which discusses that Avraham Avinu used to make his guests pay exorbitant prices if they did not wish to bless Hashem for the food.

I am struggling to differentiate between a missionary from a different religion who would set up a food kitchen in order to persuade people to convert to their religion, and Avraham's hospitality.

To me, it appears that if the goal of the generosity is to convert people to a religion, then the deed is not Gemilas Chassodim, but rather some sort of avoidah, an act between a person and his God.

In fact, one can go as far as to say the food was not free at all, but rather had a payment of blessing a god you do not wish to bless.

Wouldn't someone who is a ba'al chessed give food to anyone who is hungry, and not make it dependent on recognizing their God?

(PS. On a similar vein, Avrohom sent Yishmoel away without gold and silver according to Rashi, as he hated him because he went on a bad way. Wouldn't someone who is a ba'al chessed be generous to someone who had stayed in his home for years, regardless of his religious activities?)

In summary, I am seeking to understand where Chazal saw that Avrohom Avinu did chessed from these accounts, or are there other stories that were purely chessed from which Chazal learned from?

  • 2
    Your question is predicated on the claim that Chazal saw Avraham as a personification of chesed. Adding support for that claim would lend credibility to your question and give people somewhere to start looking for an answer. – msh210 Oct 30 '18 at 20:22
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    +1 I'd been meaning to ask this (perhaps phrased differently) for a long time – user6591 Oct 30 '18 at 20:58
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    @msh210 not Chazal but a source sefaria.org/Rabbeinu_Bahya%2C_Bereshit.2.4.7 – hazoriz Oct 30 '18 at 23:14
  • There's a midrash(don't know exactly where) that explains how Avraham Avinu and Sara Imenu were engaged. When Sarah was born, the midwives could tell if a girl was fertile or not. They saw that she wasn't and the practice was to kill/sacrifice such a girl since she couldn't have kids. In order to save her life, Avraham said he would marry her. Also, see here: torah.org/torah-portion/ravfrand-5772-vayera – chacham Nisan Oct 31 '18 at 18:41
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    @Double while I have seen that brought as a proof, it seems the intention of the passuk is exactly the opposite, that Hashem should act out of his emes that He promised to Yaakov, and act with His chessed that he promised to Avraham. Not that they themselves acted on these midos. And we would still be missing 1/3 of the source. – user6591 Dec 4 '18 at 12:11
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OK, Here's a Pshat answer:

The Mishnah in BM says that the loss of one's Rabbi take precedence over his father's, because his father brings him into this world, but his Rabbi educates him to enter the World to Come.

Therefore, the greatest Chessed one can do with another person is to provide him with merits to enter the WTC. In the case of Avraham, even by threatening with paying big money, he offered them a far valuable option of saying a Berachah and having merits for the WTC.

So even by שלא לשמה בא לשמה, unwillingly or unconsciously, by making those men to praise G-d Avraham made a huge Chessed with them!

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    By a short stretch of the imagination, according to the Spanish Inquisition they were true Gomlei Chasodim, as they literally threatened you with death if you didnt accept their God, thereby helping you gain World To Come according to them. Incidentally, they were more famous for their auto-de-fe's than their generous and giving Chesed. – Yehuda Oct 31 '18 at 17:46
  • I think the Spanish Inquisition is not a good question. They didn't threaten with death, they killed thousands regardless of whether you converted or not. You would have a point if they only threatened to kill non-believers. They didn't they killed everyone that didn't fit in with their version of Christianity, and even converts were mercilessly killed. Avrohom hardly threatened people with death if they didn't praise the Creator. Also, he gave them two alternatives - basically intimating to praise G-d. This is hardly comparable to being threatened with death. – user18155 Nov 1 '18 at 7:47
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On a different vein, about Yishmael:

As the Torah clearly explains, Avraham didn't want to send Yishmael but only after G-d appeared to him and explicitly asked to follow Sara's prophecy he agreed:

וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת־בֶּן־הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית אֲשֶׁר־יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָם מְצַחֵק׃
וַתֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָהָם גָּרֵשׁ הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת־בְּנָהּ
כִּי לֹא יִירַשׁ בֶּן־הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת עִם־בְּנִי עִם־יִצְחָק׃
וַיֵּרַע הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּעֵינֵי אַבְרָהָם עַל אוֹדֹת בְּנוֹ׃ וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקים אֶל־אַבְרָהָם אַל־יֵרַע בְּעֵינֶיךָ עַל־הַנַּעַר וְעַל־אֲמָתֶךָ
כֹּל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵלֶיךָ שָׂרָה שְׁמַע בְּקֹלָהּ כִּי בְיִצְחָק יִקָּרֵא לְךָ זָרַע׃

The matter distressed Abraham greatly, for it concerned a son of his.

But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed over the boy or your slave; whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you.

That just proves that Avraham was very "Chessed" toward his beloved son Yishmael and he was just "forced" to let them go.

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    But he wasnt forced "not to give him gold or silver". That he refrained from doing as he hated him, according to Rashi. How do you answer that? – Yehuda Oct 31 '18 at 17:43
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It depends on your definition of chesed.

It says in the Pasuk: מיכה פרק ז, כ (כ) תִּתֵּ֤ן אֱמֶת֙ לְיַֽעֲקֹ֔ב חֶ֖סֶד לְאַבְרָהָ֑ם אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּ֥עְתָּ לַאֲבֹתֵ֖ינוּ מִ֥ימֵי קֶֽדֶם:

The Midrash Rabba understands that the Chesed was done to his wife Sarah - he buried her: בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת חיי שרה ג [כה, ט] ויקברו אותו יצחק וישמעאל אל מערת המכפלה, כאן בן האמה חולק כבוד לבן הגבירה, השדה אשר קנה אברהם, אמר רבי תנחומא והלא מקבורתה של שרה לקבורתו של אברהם ל"ח שנה והכא את אמר שמה קבר אברהם ושרה אשתו, אלא בא ללמדך שכל מי שגמל חסד לשרה זכה לגמול חסד לאברהם, א"ר שמואל בר נחמן שם ועבר היו מהלכין לפני מטתו וראו גבה מקום מופנה לאבינו אברהם וקברו אותו בדיוטרין שלו במקום המוכן ומזומן לו.

This is critical - Avrohom Avinu, our forefather, the paragon of chesed is described as a paragon of chesed with regard to this episode - he buried Sarah.

That means the definition of Chesed is defined by this act.

So we understand that chesed is defined how the Torah understands chesed. In other words, the definition is based upon Avorohoms selfless act of burying his wife - i.e. with no compensation or remuneration.

So I see chesed is defined not by the action, but whether or not the person expects remuneration, and when there isn't he does it anyway, regardless of the compensation.

Midrash Rabbah 49:7 brings that Avrohom Avinu forced people into a quandary - either pay exorbitant prices or praise the Creator of the Universe. Isn't that the point of Chesed - to show that the Creator of the Universe is the Creator? To realize that everything in this world is given to you, and there is nothing for free - you don't get a free lunch. Chesed is really the recognition of the ultimate Baal Chesed - Hashem, who does kindness to His creation, without need or want of compensation.

I see you're troubled by the fact that Avrohom Avinu sent out Yishmael. He didn't send him out with gold and silver, but certainly food and water. Yishmael abused his position and had a negative and damaging effect on Avrohom's household. Chesed is never overridden by one's own spiritual growth.

For example, Lot was willing to do chesed to the Melachim, at the expense of his own family's lives. This is totally inappropriate. Lot is saved because he is part of Avrohom's family, not on his own merits.

Therein is the answer to your question. Chesed is only chesed when it is motivated by G-d's will, that it brings about a greater kavod Shamayim, and is done purely for that reason, without recompense. The chesed is only chesed when there is no damage to one's own family or spiritual growth.

-2
  1. There is a common misunderstanding, based on the Midrashim and Agadetah that some basic concepts/facts/beliefs in Judaism are derived from texts. The truth is that many of them are set "de-Jure", meaning they were created that way, whether we perceive it so or not.

  2. The fact that Avraham represents Midas haChesed is not learned from the Torah but is a part of our Oral tradition given by G-d, whether we see proofs from the Torah and Midrashim or not. So Avraham was created as Midas haChesed, Itzchak as Gevurah, Yaakov as Tiferes etc, whether the verses or Midrashim support it (in your eyes) or contradict. In other words, G-d "testifies" He created Avraham that way.

    • This is also consistent with the school that perceives the forefathers as imaginary figures representing different qualities.
    • This is consistent with the Kabbalah explaining the creation of the world from the theoretical qualities (י' הספירות באצילות) to our physical world (עולם עשיה).
    • This is consistent with the order of the Prayer - Avrohom goes first for Chesed.
  3. Another common misunderstanding is the Midrashim and their use. Those should be used very carefully, as many of them are seemingly contradicting or self-inflicting, and untrained student might get it all wrong. A common workaround is to start with the assumption that the Sages would not agree to write a story that "incriminates" our forefathers. Therefore if it seems so, the problem is on our side, with our [mis]understanding.

  4. Similarly, you can ask questions just about everything in the Torah - was Yaakov a liar, was Yehuda an offender, was Moses cruel etc.

  • Point 2 possibly has legs, but would require a source to back it up. – Yehuda Oct 31 '18 at 17:47
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    Why did you post three different answers? – DonielF Oct 31 '18 at 18:08
  • Avraham Ben HaRambam doesn't believe what you attribute to him – robev Oct 31 '18 at 18:44
  • You will have to provide an actual source for Rav Avrohom ben HaRambam. You should read "Torah Chazal and Science" by Rav Moshe Meiselman. In this book he discusses your point about Rav Avrohom ben HaRambam and argues convincingly that what you're saying is simply wrong and a misunderstanding of manuscripts that don't exist. – user18155 Nov 1 '18 at 9:35
  • 3. Is also dubious. The Ramban argues that Avrohom Avinu committed an Aveira that caused his descendants to be enslaved in Egypt. This is a Rishon, the Midrashim can be very disparaging about our forefathers. – user18155 Nov 1 '18 at 9:37

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