The first of the patriarchs, Avraham Avinu (Abraham), is often remembered for his outstanding kindness. His tent, pitched in the desert, had entrances on all sides so that travelers could comfortably find their way into the grand roadside inn. Food and water for washing were available to all wayfarers.
The extent of Avraham's benevolence is especially apparent in his behavior three days after his circumcision. On this day of extreme physical discomfort Avraham was distraught by something other than his own pain: the lack of guests in his tent. He went outside into the heat of the day, willing someone, anyone to pass by. The One Above took note of Avraham's sincere desire for guests and sent him three angels dressed as men for him to wine and dine.
Our sages say that the meal Avraham prepared then surpassed even Shlomo Hamelech's (King Solomon's) kingly meal. Avraham had three lambs slaughtered for his guests so as to be able to serve each one an exquisite meal of tongue in mustard sauce.
The meal that he prepared was fit for a king - even more so.
Avraham's kindness went above and beyond the call of duty. Speaking on a personal level, I know that if I was in the type of physical pain that Avraham must have been in (at ninety nine years old!) I wouldn't have the strength to put together such a meal. In fact, I wouldn't have the strength to put together any kind of meal. I probably wouldn't be on the lookout for guests either. I would probably be having everyone put together a meal for me instead.
From where did Avraham have the energy? How was he able to host and host and host again at a time when electrical appliances and conveniences weren't anywhere near the world arena?
By living with the knowledge that he was doing something holy.
Avraham Avinu wasn't hosting so that he'd feel good. He didn't put up with all kinds of company and temperaments so that his ego would feel better. He did it because it was a mitzvah, a Divine directive. And when there's a Higher reason, there's A reason. A reason to act, a reason to live, and a reason to host guests in the scorching desert sun on all days of the year.
There is a Divine commandment to host guests and so Avraham hosted. There was no ego, no what about me, involved. And so Avraham didn't feel his own discomfort; he was too busy worrying about others, because that's the mitzvah.
But what if he had let his ego get involved? Or rather, what about when I let my ego get involved? When I cook a hot meal for my sickly neighbor because I want to be kind? Then on the day that I'm home late from work I might decide not to cook for her because I can't be bothered. And I might tell my friends on other days all about the nice little deed I do for the strange person that lives next door. And isn't that nice of me because I really would rather be doing other things with my time?
Am I doing the right thing? The kind thing? Yeah. Because it makes me feel good. Because that's what my society claims is good. But on the days that I can't? Then, forget about you neighbor. I can't make it today.
Societal norms. Personal feelings of right and wrong. These are powerful forces that push us to do what is truly right. But they're not enough. Because norms change according to convenience and internal feelings are limited by ego, my personal compass of right and wrong might not always be able to help me find the proper direction in life.
As Avraham tells Abimelech the king of Gerar, "For I said, 'Surely, there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife" (Genesis 20:11). When the Divine directives of good and bad are confused anything might happen. In this case, Avraham is describing how he might have been killed by Abimelech's men in order that his wife be "available" for them to take pleasure in. To prevent this from happening, Avraham says, "She is my sister" (Ibid 2).
But when we condition ourselves to be holy, when our conscience is set to heavenly channels, then the rules don't change. Good remains good and bad remains bad. Ego and personal feelings get pushed aside and the rules of life become clear.
And it becomes possible to host guests in any weather and in any condition.