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Let a small amount of water be brought, please, and wash your feet and recline under the tree. I will retrieve some bread so that you may nourish your heart . (Bereishis 18:4,5)
The posuk records that Avraham provided his guests with water and bread. Rashi comments that the precise words of the posuk indicate that this water was provided indirectly through an agent. Indeed Chazal tell us that this was Eliezer whom Avraham recruited in order to train to do this Mitzvah. Rashi goes further to note that the posuk also indicates that in contrast to the water, the bread was provided directly by Avraham. Rashi quotes Chazal who note that Hashem rewarded Avraham measure for measure. With regard to the water that was provided through and agent, Hashem similarly provided water for Jewish people in the desert through an agent. This refers to the time when Moshe was instructed to speak to the rock in order that it give forth water. Regarding the bread that Avraham himself provided, Hashem rewarded him in a like measure by directly providing man for the Jewish people during their forty-year stay in the desert.
We may note that with regard to the water, Avraham asked only that a small amount be provided. Yet when his descendents were rewarded, the posuk says that Moshe hit the rock twice and a great amount of water came forth (Bamidbar 20:11). On the other hand with regard to the bread, Avraham gave no indication that he would only provide a small amount, yet his descendents were rewarded with only minimal portions of man. This is seen in the fact that no person was permitted to take a drop more then needed for a single day and that anything left over would immediately rot. We would have expected that the principle of being rewarded measure for measure, be extended here as well. Regarding the water that was given in a small quantity, we would have expected Hashem to repay the Jewish people with only minimal quantities of water and with regard to the bread that was not given in a small quantity, we would have expected a similar large and generous quantity of man?
The commentators explain that there is a great difference between the defiled land of Egypt, where the Jewish people spent two hundred and ten years and the holy land of Eretz Yisroel. Egypt was a land that was watered by the Nile. One did not have to worry or be concerned if there would be water to irrigate the corps. There was always a steady flow of water in the Nile. In contrast Eretz Yisroel is a land that is watered by rainfall. In Eretz Yisroel there is constant concern that there be rain in the proper time and in the right amount. Chazal consider this to be the great spiritual advantage of Eretz Yisroel. When living in Eretz Yisroel one is always forced to pray for rain. In addition one is forced to reflect on his deeds and merits as to determine if he is worthy of receiving the much-needed rain. This constant need brings a person closer to Hashem and prevents him from sinning. In contrast, Egypt is a land whose people feel that they can survive fine and well without Hashem.
The primeval snake illustrates this same idea. The snakes punishment was that its primary source of food would be the dust of the earth. One might ask, is this not a great blessing because it is now guaranteed an unlimited supply of food? The commentators however explain that this is the greatest evil. The snake will now never feel the need to seek assistance from Hashem and is thus spiritually dead.
Likewise, Avraham asked that only a small amount of water be provided. Although the Jewish people were repaid with great quantities of physical water yet their spiritual attainments from this experience were small. This was because the great supply of water did not cause the Jewish people to pray or reflect on their deeds as to determine if they deserved the water. Likewise just as Avraham provided a large amount of bread for his guests, so to Hashem provided great amounts of spiritual sustenance through the man. Although the portions of man may have been minimal, these portions caused the Jewish people to constantly perfect themselves spiritually so that they would be deserving of receiving it.
In conclusion what Hashem repays in great and small quantities is not measured in physical terms but in spiritual ones.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001