The opening stories of Bereshit present us with a series of morality tales, from Cain’s “Am I My Brother’s Keeper” to Noah’s being “a righteous man in his generation.” Abraham, introduced to the story last week, is charged “to be blameless and walk in front of God”. As our ultimate role model he stands for the qualities of justice, compassion and humility that are seen through the various tales told of him. This week’s parashah, Vayera, presents one of our most important obligations, that of “hachnasat orchim”, welcoming guests, or hospitality.
The mitzvah of hospitality is presented through two stories. In the first, Avraham, just after he has performed the mitzvah of circumcision on himself and his household, is sitting in front of his tent “in the heat of the day”. Instead of recuperating indoors in the shade, he is so committed to making sure any wayfarers are taken care of that he waits with intention outside. The story tells us that “Abraham runs to greet them”, welcomes them and then says “Let a little water be brought, bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves…” He then runs to the tent, has Sarah prepare cakes of the finest flour while he runs and sacrifices and prepares an animal for a feast, waiting on them while they eat. From this story we learn the extent to which we are to go to provide for the physical and emotional comfort of our guests – in a sense, no trouble is too big. Moreover, we are to seek out guests, inviting people into our homes, especially those traveling through the community or those who would otherwise be alone.
In contrast to this example comes the story of Sodom. The sin of Sodom is not as has been so misunderstood, the word that comes from the town, but rather the inhabitants’ lack of hospitality. The townspeople want to violate the same men who have come to Abraham; only his nephew Lot provides them hospitality. Again, the message of the Torah is that we are to provide our utmost for strangers and guests.
Unfortunately, many of us do not have the same wherewithal of either Abraham or Lot or our ancient ancestors. It is a great mitzvah to open one’s home, and this is why we always encourage members of this congregation to do so; We still encourage people to call the Synagogue and place yourselves on a roster to have a couple of people in your home on the occasional Shabbat – as a congregation, we could have at least one or two homes open each Shabbat that way. However, we as a congregation will also endeavor to open our “home” as well: This year we celebrate our 5th year of having pot luck Shabbat brunch at the synagogue (strictly vegetarian and Kosher wine) so that anyone who wishes a place to share a Shabbat meal may do so at Temple Beth Shalom, joining “Our Shabbat Table” after services.