Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin
This week’s Torah portion is Vayeira (Genesis 18:1-22:24). The reading opens with Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent hoping to be able to greet visitors and welcome passersby into his home. But it was not to be. This is because just a few days ago, Abraham obeyed God’s commandment to circumcise himself and he was still in pain. As such, God made the temperatures sweltering hot in order that people would remain indoors and not venture out that day. This way, Abraham, eager to fulfill the mitzva of hachnassat orchim, welcoming guests, no matter what his level of pain, would be able to rest up.
That plan didn’t work too well, though. This is because Abraham was more in pain due to not being able to engage in acts of kindness and good deeds than any pain he was feeling from his circumcision! So God caved in and sent him three angels disguised as human passersby so that Abraham would be able to offer some strangers his home hospitality, as he so desired.
Home hospitality is a virtue that runs strong in the Jewish people, a virtue we inherited from Abraham himself. Abraham used his hospitality and kindness in order to bring the atheist, agnostic, and idolatrous wayfarers he would meet closer to God. How would he do this? Abraham would serve his guests elaborate meals after which of course, they would thank him profusely. Abraham would respond in astonishment “Why are you thanking me? It is God. The Creator of the world, who we must thank for our food, our clothes, and our lives.”. Boy did that catch his guests off guard! “Who is this God” they would ask, at which point Abraham would go off on his inspiring lectures about the greatness of God. Abraham won hundreds, even thousands, to his new religion: the belief in one God.
The Jewish people must continue in this tradition of acts of kindness, especially home hospitality. Even more importantly – we must teach the world about God and Judaism. Being the “light among the nations” begins in this week’s Torah reading. Abraham lived in a very dark world. A world where the sun, moon and stars were worshipped and sacrifices were offered to statues. He brought in the light. The light of the one God. Monotheism – the forerunner of all of the world’s great religions. May we be able to continue in this mission and prove ourselves worthy of the label, “the children of Abraham.”
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
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Rabbi Ari Enkin