At the beginning of this week's parsha, Vayeira, we read how Hashem visited Avraham, after he had his bris. At that time, he saw three people, and so, he said to Hashem, "My Master, if I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass Your servant by." Avraham was asking Hashem not to leave, while he went to take care of the three guests.
The Talmud learns from Avraham's words, that "It is greater to take in guests, than to receive the face of the Divine Presence." Because as Avraham was receiving the Divine Presence, he stopped and asked Hashem to wait as he went to take care of the guests.
The Rambam brings this as the law, he says, "And this is the rule that our father Avraham established, and the way of kindness that he accustomed himself to, he fed those who passed by the way, he gave them to drink and he would see them off. And it is greater to take in guests, than to receive the face of the Divine Presence, as it says, 'And he saw, and behold there were three men.'"
The way of the Rambam in his book of law, the "Yad Hachazakah," is to bring the law without citing the sources. And whenever he cites a verse as a source, there is something that the verse adds to the understanding of the particular law. However, in our case, the verse, "And he saw, and behold there were three men," doesn't seem to be adding anything to the understanding of the law of taking in guests. Why does the Rambam cite this verse?
Another question. The Rambam makes it clear in his Commentary on Mishnah, that the mitzvahs that we do today, are not because of what our forefathers did, rather, because Hashem commanded us to, when he gave us the Torah on Mount Sinai. However, here he says, that it is "The rule that our father Avraham established." The Rambam says himself, that the mitzvah of taking in guests, is part of the mitzvah of "You should love your fellow as yourself," meaning, that it is from Sinai, and not from Avraham. So why does he tell us that it is the rule that our father Avraham established?
In Tikunei Zohar it says that Rabbi Shimon said, "One who takes in guests with his whole heart, it is as if he is receiving the face of the Divine Presence."
The statement of Rabbi Shimon seems to be contradicting the Talmud's statement. The Talmud says that taking guests is "greater" than receiving the Divine Presence, and Rabbi Shimon says that it is "as if" he receives the Divine Presence.
Although it is common for the Tikunei Zohar to differ in opinion from the Talmud, in our case it doesn't make sense to say that they differ. Because the Talmud learns it from a verse and a factual story that happened with Avraham. In this case, we have to clarify the matter, since it is obvious that they can't be arguing. How can we reconcile these seemingly opposing statements?
We will begin to understand this, by taking a look at Rabbi Shimon and who he was. This Rabbi Shimon was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, the greatest sage of his day, he was one of the people who were just on a higher plain.
On top of that, the Alter Rebbe says, that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, was able to accomplish with his spiritual service to Hashem, what we accomplish with our physical mitzvahs. And that when he was forced into hiding, from the Romans who wanted to kill him, he hid in a cave for thirteen years. When he was there, he had nothing to do mitzvahs with, no matzah for Pesach, no shofar for Rosh Hashanah, no Sukka or lulav for Sukkos, etc., etc. However, he was so great, that he was able to do them spiritually.
For Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai receiving the Divine Presence was his normal state. So when he says that taking in guests is as if he receives the Divine Presence, he is talking about a higher level of Divine Presence, a level of Divine Presence that is not common to him, a level that he aspires to.
For us, who are not at Rabbi Shimon's level, who are not used to receiving the Divine Presence, taking in guests, is definitely higher than receiving the Divine Presence. However, for Rabbi Shimon, who received this level of Divine Presence regularly, when he said it is "as if," he is referring to a higher level of Divine Presence.
So we can understand the Talmudic passage in this way. "It is greater to take in guests, than to receive the face of the Divine Presence," because when you do, it is "as if" you receive a far higher level of Divine Presence.
Now we will understand why the Rambam brings the verse. It is known that the Rambam was a Kabbalist some of his rulings' sources are found in the Zohar, Kabbalah, etc. So it would make sense that he would want to make it clear that Rabbi Shimon and the Talmud agree on this point, and to make it clear that there is not two opinions, he brings the verse, to show that it is not subject to differing opinions.
And this will help us understand why the Rambam says that "This is the rule that our father Avraham established, and the way of kindness that he accustomed himself to," as he is trying to explain that Rabbi Shimon and the Talmud aren't contradicting each other.
It is true that the mitzvahs, including the mitzvah of taking in guests, is incumbent upon us because we were given this mitzvah at Sinai, but the way we do it and what it accomplishes is from Avraham. It is because of Avraham's way of kindness and the way he took in guests, that makes it greater than receiving the Divine Presence. And because, "The actions of our forefathers are a sign for their children," it is Avraham who implanted in us this nature of kindness, that makes our mitzvah of taking in guests so powerful.
Look how powerful our mitzvah of taking in guests is, and how strong our connection to Avraham our father is. It is greater than receiving the Divine Presence, and akin to the higher way Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai received the Divine Presence. This attests to the greatness of this mitzvah, which is rooted in the kindness of Avraham our father and the mitzvah of loving your fellow as yourself, which in itself can bring Moshiach. So do this mitzvah with all your heart, the way the Rambam says, and we will hasten the coming of Moshiach, and we will merit to receive the higher level of Divine Presence, that we will surely receive with his coming. May he come soon.