There is a famous Zohar that states that the tree that Avraham had near his tent, where he offered shade to his guests, had a special barometer. The Zohar states that the tree only provided shade for one who believed in Hashem. If one was not a believer, then the tree branches would move away from him or her and would not offer shade. What deserves note is the exact context and other missing details of this tree.
Yalkut Reuveni quotes the Zohar in full. One important note to add is that Avraham was certainly a kabbalist and as Rav Tzadok writes, Sefer Yetzirah, one of the most ancient and deepest books of Kabbalah, was written by Rabbi Akiva, based on the traditions that went all the way back to Avraham Aveinu. Following is a brief elaboration:
“Avraham told his guests (the 3 angels that appeared), ‘take some water… and sit under the tree’s shade.’ This was a special tree located in Israel and it had branches that provided shade and a spring of water beneath it. One who believed in Hashem was granted shade and one who believed in idolatry experienced the branches moving upward and away from him. This alerted Avraham about the nature of whom he was talking with. The spring of water was below and when it would rise up, this showed Avraham that the guest was ready to dip in the mikvah and to convert to follow Hashem wholeheartedly. Just as Adam had sinned by eating from a tree, now, Avraham fixed this sin with this tree.
What was the purpose of this tree moving away, what did it accomplish? Also, why is the tree corresponding to the sin of Adam the only thing mentioned, while the spring is not discussed. What does the spring of water represent?
The midrash tells us some more details. When Avraham would feed his guests, he would engage them in a discussion about life and purpose. If a guest was still unconvinced at the end of the meal, when the guest thanked Avraham, he got the grand fanale response. Avraham would say, “don’t thank me, thank the one who provided the meal.” They would thank Sarah and she would say, “thank the one who provided the meal.” The perplexed guest would then be taught about Hashem, Who created the entire world. Avraham was the paradigm of love and kindness. He was deeply connected to and in love with Hashem and he wanted to share this love with the world. Avraham connected to Hashem as a Giver, as the Source of All Kindness. Hence, Avraham’s main lesson was precisely what the tree provided. If you follow Hashem you will receive shade and warth and you will be taken care of. But if you deny Hashem, then you will not be protected and taken care of by Hashem. Thus, the tree expressed so clearly what Avraham’s mission in life was. It taught that one only gets rewards and enjoyment in this world, if he is aware that Hashem is providing it.
This message was a direct correction for the sin of Adam. Adam’s sin separated the pleasure that one can get in this world, from the Creator and Provider Himself. Adam ate from the tree of Knowledge for his own pleasure and in rebellion of Hashem and that got him kicked out of Gad Eden. Adam forgot that Hashem created him and that Hashem put him in this world to give him pleasure. Avraham’s tree showed this exact point and taught one to give thanks to Hashem.
Double Trouble and Repair
But there is another point. The river and the mikvah represents that even if one came to Avraham’s house and did not believe in Hashem, even if he was not granted shade from the tree and so to speak sinned just as Adam had sinned, there was still a repair. When Hashem confronted Adam about his actions of eating from the tree, Adam remained in his rebellion. Adam said, “the woman you gave me caused me to do this and I would do it again (va’ochel, the word used means both “and I ate” and also “and I would eat again.”). Adam did not take the opportunity to repent and was thus banished from Gan Eden. Avraham’s river came to offer this second chance. If you wanted to get back on the bandwagon, you would still be able to listen, learn and commit and then the mikvah was available. That was the significance of Avraham’s tree.