Chazal tell us that Klal Yisrael received reward for that which Avraham Avinu said “for I am but dust (afar) and ash (eifer)” (Bereishis 18:27) For mentioning the dirt (afar) he received the mitzvah of “covering the blood with dirt” and for the ash (eifer) he received the mitzvah of “sprinkling the ash of the parah adumah.”
The Chidah asks “We understand that Avraham Avinu was a humble person, but why is it necessary that he himself mention that he was humble – comparing himself to dirt and ash? It should be enough that Hashem perceives him as a humble person, enabling Him to then give him the worthy award.”
I wonder if it even made a difference how Avraham expressed it? Since he used the words afar and eifer, are we obligated to find a mitzvah that has to do with each of these ideas? The Chida answers this question with a very important principle: A person is made up of three different aspects: Thoughts (machshava), actions (maasei) and speech (dibur). Many times there is discord between what a person says and thinks, and that is where body language becomes very important. Sometimes the body language will reinforce that which is said. In these situations we see the thoughts, the words and the actions either all aligned or all misaligned. So too many times people preach one idea, but they act in a different way. The wholesome person has all three aspects pointing in the same direction.
So even though Hashem was able to look into Avraham’s heart and know he was a humble person, and even though a man on the street could see Avraham’s actions and know that he was humble, the Chida explains that it is not enough for Avraham to think that he is humble and to act as if he is humble. He must also speak as a humble person to receive these special blessings. Therefore the blessings corresponded to the short words that were in reality only a metaphor.
There are times in our lives when we have good thoughts about others and in our minds, we think we did the action (though there was no action) and sometimes we said something (though there was no thought behind it). An unfortunate example of this is a typical phone call: Reuven calls Shimon and sincerely asks “Shimon my old pal, how are you doing today?” But before Shimon has a chance to respond, Reuven skips all further pleasantries and begins talking about the real reason that he called. We learn from the Chida that it is not enough to be well-mannered and ask the right questions, but we must act and think in accordance with that which we say.
The point of thought, action and speech is brought out again at the end of the parsha. Hashem says to the malachim “I know Avraham well enough that I know he will even sacrifice his son. But without the action the thought or speech alone is incomplete.”
We must all try to think about what we are saying, or to say what we are really thinking, and to actually mean it earnestly.