A Blessed Welcome
“Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the Divine Presence” – Talmud, Shab. 127a
Of the many character traits for which Abraham serves as potent model, his welcoming of the three strangers into his tent in this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, is perhaps the most compelling and relevant to our current moment. For the ancient Mideast, hospitality was more than a social grace—it could mean the difference between life and death when traveling by foot through an arid landscape. And even more primally, the capacity to overcome our hard-wired fear of the other—to welcome a stranger into our midst, let alone provide for his/her needs—is a remarkable reflection of Judaism’s larger goal of inspiring us to rise above our baser instincts. Abraham’s lesson provides contemporary insight and guidance on multiple levels, from our need to reach out to the local homeless community to our nation’s obligation to live up its highest ideals regarding refugees and immigration. But perhaps the greatest wisdom derives from the Hebrew expression for welcome: Bruchim Ha’baim—Blessed are those who come. When we welcome guests, especially strangers, we do more than embrace another person. We do nothing less than extend God’s blessing to those who grace our doorways.
Rabbi Daniel A. Weiner