In the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah - Rabbi Rafi Kaiserblueth
This week’s Parasha, Vayera, has a special place in my heart as it was the first Torah text that I studied seriously in year 3. As some of you also may recall, it contains the stories that we read on Rosh Hashana. It is also the portion that was read on my son’s Natan’s naming 2 years ago. And finally, it teaches us about an extremely important mitzvah, that of hachnasat orchim, or welcoming of guests.
The paraha opens with Abraham convalescing at the entrance to his tent. The text opens with:
“The LORD appeared to him [Abraham] by the terebinths of Mamre…” Interestingly, it does not say what was revealed or what was communicated.
The very next verse however says that Abraham opens his eyes and chances upon three strangers approaching. The text takes great pains to emphasize the lengths to which Abraham goes to ensure that these strangers are welcomed. He runs to greet them, he runs to Sarah, he hurries to his servant to prepare the meat and he rushes to wash their feet. This all from a man who only a few days prior had a circumcision at the age of 99!
This story forms the basis of our stringent laws of hospitality. Reading it in a chronological context, it makes tremendous sense why the culture at the time would have such strict rules of welcoming in guests. Imagine yourself wandering through the wilderness, alone, without food or water and obviously no shelter. The only way to keep people safe as they travelled would be to guarantee that they would always have some place to take refuge should the worst happen. Thus, many cultures throughout the Middle East strongly emphasize the taking in of strangers that survives to this day.
While culturally, there is no doubt then about the importance of welcoming guests, the text also gives us a strong message about just how important it actually is in our Jewish tradition. Recall that Abraham was in the midst of having a revelatory moment with God, when all of a sudden, Abraham leaves God’s presence to welcome in strangers. The talmud learns from this story: “The deed of hospitality is greater than the welcoming of the divine presence.”
Coming from a nomadic heritage, our practices and rituals are deeply rooted in the values and ethics of a communal based society. Those practices continue to be lived today, not just having guests at our Shabbat dinner table, but welcoming travelers from all over the world as they come to visit.
I pray this week that we, now more than ever, continue to open our homes to guests both in our community, and without, to build relationships and increase connectivity throughout our society following in the footsteps of our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah.
Rabbi Rafi Kaiserblueth
7 Ocean Street
Woollahra, NSW 2025
p: 02 9389 6444
Parashat Chayei Sarah
Shabbat, November 14, 2020
27th of Cheshvan, 5781
Friday, October 9 7:16PM
Motzei Shabbat 7:53PM
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