It is told that one of the great Rebbes of yesteryear would regularly visit a certain town.
Before he became famed as a tzaddik and miracle worker, like many other travelers of that time, he arrived by foot. The wealthier families of the town barely glanced his way; it was one of the more impoverished Jewish residents who ushered him into his home and graciously offered the Rebbe a bed and meals.
After many individuals began to flock to him, seeking brachos and guidance, his followers ensured that the tzaddik traveled in a stately, horse-drawn carriage. When he arrived on his next visit to the town, the wealthiest resident demanded to host the Rebbe.
The Rebbe instructed that the horses and the wagon be sent to home of the gvir, while he proceeded on foot to the hovel of the same poor man with whom he had stayed in the past.
The shocked wealthy man asked for an explanation.
“I visited this town numerous times before,” the Rebbe said. “Until now, when I came by foot, it was always the other Yid who invited me to come to him. The reason you invited me this time is because I came with a wagon drawn by horses. So I sent you the horses. …”
On the way back to Canaan from Mitzrayim, Avraham Avinu made certain to go to the very same lodgings where he had stayed on his way to Mitzrayim. There are numerous relevant lessons to be learned from this fact.
Rashi informs us that this teaches us that a person shouldn’t change his lodgings. After staying at a specific location during one journey, he should stay at the same place the next time he takes this trip. The meforshim explain that this is to protect the good name of both the traveler and his host, for it will prevent others from assuming that the guest wasn’t satisfied with his host, or that the host was unhappy with the guest.
An additional reason given by Rashi is that he returned to these lodgings in order to pay his debts. This is somewhat perplexing, since the Torah has informed us that when Avraham Avinu left Charan he took with him all the “possessions that they amassed,” which indicates that even prior to his stay in Mitzrayim, Avraham Avinu had the means to pay for his own lodgings. Why, then, did he have to settle his bill upon his return?
The Maharal teaches that since it was a time of hunger, when others didn’t have the means to support themselves, Avraham Avinu chose not to reveal the fact that he had the ability to pay for his own lodgings.
The Pardes Yosef offers another explanation: When a poor person arrives in a city, it is those who are in similar dire straits who usually have mercy on him and offer him lodgings and assistance. When a wealthy person arrives, other well-to-do individuals usually extend an invitation.
When Avraham Avinu traveled to Mitzrayim it was the poor people who offered to host him. When he returned — fantastically wealthy from the gifts given to him by Pharaoh — it was the local tycoons who went out to greet him, desiring that he stay with them. But Avraham Avinu chose to stay only at the homes of the same paupers who invited him on the previous trip. The fact that such an esteemed and wealthy person as Avraham Avinu stayed in their homes brought great honor to these paupers, and in so doing he “repaid his debts” — i.e., showed his gratitude for their kindness.
Virtually all of us, at one point or another in our lives, are in a situation in which we are forced to accept the assistance of others. As time passes, and that help is no longer necessary, we must make a special effort not to forget the kindness we were shown, and to exhibit and express our hakaras hatov.
Another explanation is that he sought to repay a different type of debt.
Wherever he went, Avraham Avinu sought to instill emunah in the Ribbono shel Olam, and as he traveled on the journey to Mitzrayim, he was mocked by the local populace.
“According to what you teach — that the Creator supports and provides sustenance to all His creations — why are we living in tranquility and comfort while you are being forced to travel in search of food?” they demanded to know.
When he returned, the news that Pharaoh had sought to harm Sarah and that Hashem had wrought great miracles in Avraham Avinu’s behalf had preceded him. Having amassed an enormous fortune, Avraham Avinu made certain to visit the same lodgings so he could “repay his debts” — refute the claims of those who had questioned him, for now it was obvious why Hashem caused him to travel to Mitzrayim and the great love Hashem had for him was now apparent to all.
May we speedily merit the Geulah Sheleimah, when we will be able to “repay the debts” and all the questions about the torment and tribulations of Am Yisrael throughout the painful years of exile will be answered.