Shammai said: Make your Torah study a fixed practice; say little and do much; and greet all people with acheerful countenance.
(Pirke Avot 1:15)
Say little and do much:
What is that? This teaches that the righteous saylittle and do much but the wicked say much but do little.How do we know that the righteous say little and domuch? For thus we learn from Abraham, our father, who said to the angels: “You shall eat bread with me today,”as it said, “And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves,” (Gen 18:5) But in the end we seewhat Abraham did for the ministering angels: for he went and prepared for them three oxen and nine measures of fine meal. And how do we know that he prepared for them nine measures of fine meal? For it said: “AndAbraham hasted into the tent to Sarah and said: Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal.” (Gen 18:6)‘Three’ literally. ‘Meal’ makes six. ‘Fine’ makes nine. And how do we know that he prepared three oxen? AndAbraham ran to the herd and fetched a calf, tender and good. The herd – one; acalf – two; tender -three. And
some add: Good – four! “And he gave it to his servant.” (Gen. 18:7) Abraham gave it to Ishmael his son to trainhim in pious works.
(Avot D’Rebbe Natan 13)
But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26)--because, R. Isaacsaid, she sinned through salt. On the night that the angels visited Lot, Lot said to his wife, "Give these guests a bitof salt." But she replied, "Besides entertaining guests, do you wish to introduce into Sodom another vile custom[that of seasoning their food]?" What did she do? She went around among all her neighbors, saying to each, "Giveme salt--we have guests," intending thereby to have the townspeople become aware of the presence of guests inher home [and penalize Lot for it]. Hence, "she herself became a pillar of salt."
(Genesis Rabbah 51:5)
: The statement from
Avot D’Rebbe Natan
is based on a well known aphorism attributed to thesage, Shammai: “Say little and do much.” The measure of righteousness, we learn, is based not what we say buton we do. When the wayfarers arrive in Abraham’s came he offers to wash their feet (a common Middle Eastern practice), to bring them a little water to drink and a ‘morsel’ to eat. But that is hardly what our forefather does inthe continuing narrative: he rushes about finding the best ingredients for the meal he is about to personally serveand he involves his entire family in preparing it (even Ishmael, according to the Midrash). In other words,Abraham gives them more than he leads them to expect – this is the sign of true righteousness. In the Sodom storywe do not hear much about Lot’s family (other than the fact that he is prepared to turn his daughters over to thecrowd). That is the beauty of the passage from Genesis Rabbah. Sarah silently becomes involved in preparing for the guests in her house while Mrs. Lot complains about her husband’s generosity. The punishment fits the crime:she is turned into a pillar of salt after complaining about her husband’s willingness to salt their food!
– Law: Applying the text to life
One may clear away even four or five baskets of straw or produce ‘on Shabbat’ to make room for guests or on account of the neglect of the house of study.
“To make room for guest…” Rabbi Johanan said: Hospitality to wayfarers
is as ‘great’ as earlyattendance at the house of study, since the sage states, ‘To make room for guests or on account of neglect of theBeit Midrash.’ Rabbi Dimi of Nehardea said: It is ‘greater’ than early attendance at the house of study, because hestates, ‘To make room for guests,’ and then, “on account of neglect of the Beit Midrash.’ Rav Judah said in thename of Rav: Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the presence of the Shechinah, for it is written,“And he said, ‘My lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, pass not away…’” (Gen. 18:3)
Rabbi Eleazar said: Come and observe how the conduct of the Holy One, blessed be He, is not like that of mortals. The conduct of mortals is such that an inferior person cannot say to a greater man,” Wait for me until Icome to you;” whereas in the case of the Holy One, blessed be He, it is written, “and Abraham said, ‘My Lord, if now I have found...’”