ויאמר אדני אם נא מצאתי חן בעיניך אל נא תעבר מעל עבדך. יקח נא מעט מים ורחצו רגליכם והשענו תחת העץ.
And he said, “Please, my master, if I find favor in your eyes, do not pass by your servant. Please take some water to wash your feet, and rest underneath the tree.” (Bereishis 18:3)
In this verse, we see Avraham Avinu practically begging three strangers to be his guests.
There is a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that when a person finishes his prayers he needs special awareness and protection from sin. When praying, a person uses his emotions to connect with Hashem; each person according to his personality. When he concludes his prayers, these emotions are still active, and if not used for something spiritual, there is a greater chance that these emotions will be used improperly. For example, a person who prays with fierce intensity may be more susceptible to anger after davening. A person who prays with powerful feelings of love towards Hashem may fall prey to the yetzer hara’s temptations after closing his siddur.
The Baal Shem Tov therefore advises us to learn some Torah, such as halacha, immediately after davening. This will channel our emotions in the right direction and protect us from sin.
The verse can be interpreted as a plea for special protection from sin after davening. “Please, my Master,” we beg of Hashem, upon concluding our prayers, “Do not pass by Your servant.” The word for “pass by” can also mean “transgress.” We are asking Hashem to save us from transgressing the Torah after we finish “serving him” with our prayers.
The next verse advises us as to how to avoid sinning: “Take some water,” the Torah continues. Torah is compared to life-giving water. By learning some Torah after davening, we will “wash our feet.” The word feet alludes to middos that are not used properly. “And rest underneath the tree.” The Torah is called the Tree of Life. If we take some “water” and rest underneath the “tree,” we will be protected from sin.
There is another important message in this verse.
“Please do not pass by your servant.” When a person grows in his avodas Hashem and becomes a better servant of his Master, he may begin to look down upon those who are not up to his spiritual level. This is a grave error, as the sin of arrogance may overshadow all of his spiritual accomplishments. If his arrogance leads him to shame another person, he has turned his mitzvos into a catalyst for very serious transgressions.
This week, we read in the Torah about Sedom. The Torah says, “And the people of Sedom were evil and very sinful to Hashem.” The words in this verse can be played around to mean that although they were evil and sinful, to Hashem they were very righteous. They put on an appearance of honorability and justice, while they tormented their fellow man. This is an extreme example of how a person can appear to be righteous but in truth be very far from the right path.
The verse admonishes: “Please do not pass by your servant.” Please do not commit transgressions due to becoming a better servant of Hashem. Keep in mind that Hashem searches every heart and knows the person’s true motives. He values every person for their own accomplishments and expects different things from different people. Do not allow your higher spiritual standing to cause you to sin. Do not grow arrogant due to your spiritual growth, and always respect every single Jew.