Spiritual immortality through generosity

“Why does the Torah say incongruously: ‘Abraham stood over the angels and they ate (Gen. 18:8)? Angels have virtues and flaws, and people have virtues and flaws. The virtue of the angels is that they cannot deteriorate, but their flaw is that they cannot improve. Humanity’s flaw is that they deteriorate, but their virtue is that they can improve.  Someone who practices n’divut acquires the virtues of their guests.  Thus, Abraham acquired the virtue of the angels, that of not being able to deteriorate.  And so he stood over and above them.” [R. Yaakov Yitzchak of Przysucha, Tales of the Hasidim, bk. 2]

I am struck reading this, as next week on Thanksgiving, most of us will either be guests or be welcoming guests. In this text, Rav Ya’akov Yitzchak here joins two different ideas – that of humanity’s virtue of being able to grow spiritually over the course of our lifetime, and what happens in the relationship of host and guest when we practice n’divut (generosity). For our teacher here, deterioration is equivalent to mortality.  Aangels – God’s messengers in this world – are immortal, but they are stuck where they are. Humanity’s gift is the power to grow in relationship and spiritual stature. 

Abraham doesn’t actually acquire immortality, but he is known for his embodiment of hospitality and lovingkindness. That legacy comes to us, having lasted for thousands of years.  I would call that spiritual immortality. 

When we practice n’divut, we acquire all kinds of potential from the guests in our lives, that becomes part of our own spiritual legacy.  Standing over someone as Abraham did is not about bragging or boasting about how much better we are than someone else, but rather about an internal spiritual aspiration beyond what we believed to be our limitations. 

How will you practice n’divut in the days to come?  Notice what gifts you receive from each act of generosity.  Reflect upon how that might impel you to your next action.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Morley Lertzman
    Nov 17, 2017 @ 13:11:17

    Dear Susan,

    Thank you for sending these thoughtful comments on life, both religious and secular. I somehow feel better after reading them.




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