Parashat Vayera begins with the story of the angels that appeared to Avraham in the form of travelers, whom he promptly welcomed and served a large meal. The opening verse tells that Avraham was sitting by the entrance of his tent “ke-chom ha-yom” – “at the heat of the day.” According to the plain reading of the text, this point was made to explain that the hot conditions made travelers especially weary and thirsty, thus providing the background for Avraham’s generous hospitality, offering his guests shade, food and water. Rashi, citing the Gemara (Bava Metzia 86b), adds that God made the weather especially hot so that people would not travel about, thus sparing Avraham – who was recovering from the painful and debilitating procedure of circumcision – from hosting weary travelers. But once God saw that Avraham desperately wanted to welcome guests despite his compromised physical condition, He sent three angels in the form of wayfarers so Avraham could invite them in.
Rav Shalom of Brahin, in Divrei Shalom, suggest reading this verse as an allusion to those occasions when a person feels “ke-chom ha-yom” – overcome by the “heat” of his sinful inclinations, as he faces a difficult religious challenge. The Torah indicates that when a person experiences this kind of “heat,” he is “petach ha-ohel” – at the “entrance” to excellence. The tests and challenges that inevitably arise over the course of religious life is the “gateway” to achievement, as it is specifically through the process of struggling with and surmounting these obstacles that we reach the lofty levels that we are capable of achieving.
This chassidic reading of the verse was perhaps intended to parallel the Gemara’s understanding, that Avraham exerted himself despite his frail condition under exceptionally hot conditions in seeking opportunities to welcome guests. Avraham here shows us that we must be committed to, and passionate about, mitzva performance even “ke-chom ha-yom” – under difficult circumstances, when we are uncomfortable and there is hard work involved. The Divrei Shalom adds that this is true also when we find religious life emotionally challenging, when we feel disinclined to observe the mitzvot, when the overbearing “heat” of human vices pulls us in the opposite direction. We show our Torah commitment by performing mitzvot even when we feel we don’t want to, when we are “not in the mood,” when our instincts and impulses discourage us from doing the right thing. Just as we must occasionally fulfill mitzvot in the “heat of the day” – when we need to overcome physical fatigue – we must also sometimes work to fulfill mitzvot in the face of emotional fatigue, overcoming our natural tendencies for the sake of our devotion to the Almighty.